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Establishing a “Culture of Remembrance and Non-Recurrence”:
Regional Approaches to Genocide Prevention
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.
“When Hateful Speech Is Transformed Into Hateful Deeds”:
Examining Freedom of Speech, Hate Speech, and Incitement to Genocide
Human rights simultaneously create duties and establish a basis for claims – that is, they emphasize the responsibility that one entity, be it state or individual, has towards another entity, as well as how an individual might be able to enforce another entity’s guarantee of a particular provision. Given the wide spectrum of rights that have been codified in such documents as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Economic and Social Rights, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, one right can, under certain circumstances, restrict the complete fulfillment of an obligation provided under another right, by virtue of what each is attempting to protect. One example of this tension is the debate between the right to freedom of expression and the right to be free of attacks on one’s own rights and reputation that can potentially result from inflammatory speech.
When it comes to genocide prevention, the most important component of this debate is how to balance freedom of expression with speech that falls under the category of “direct and public incitement to genocide,” a crime listed under Article III of the Genocide Convention. Indeed, individuals like Julius Streicher of Germany, as well as Hassan Ngeze, Ferdinand Nahimana, and Jean-Bosco Barayagwiza of Rwanda, have all been convicted for public incitement to genocide. Despite these court cases, however, the issue of whether or not something qualifies as incitement remains open to interpretation and context. Indeed, not all inflammatory speech can or should be considered incitement, as freedom of expression is a necessary cornerstone of democracy. As the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) states on its website, “incitement to commit genocide [requires] a calling on the audience (be they listeners or readers) to take action of some kind. Absent such a call, inflammatory language may qualify as hate speech but does not constitute incitement.”
To further elucidate the distinction between these two sets of rights, as well as to elaborate on efforts being made to combat incitement, the USHMM, in conjunction with the United Nations Office on Genocide Prevention and the Responsibility to Protect and the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression, held a panel discussion February 5 titled “Hate Speech and Incitement to Genocide.”
After opening remarks by Susan Bloomfield, director of the USHMM, five panelists guided by moderator Mike Abramowitz, director of the Center for the Prevention of Genocide, each spoke briefly on their area of expertise and then responded to questions posed by Abramowitz himself.
The first speaker tasked with answering Bloomfield’s question – “How we can counter dissemination of inflammatory speech while protecting the right to free expression?” – was the ambassador of Norway to the United States, Wegger Strømmen, who began by commenting on his personal introduction to human rights in the 1970s, which consisted of joining Amnesty International as an activist, accompanied by other young people who “thought we were going to change the world significantly.” Acknowledging that “we have a much more complex reality” today, particularly in regards to speech, as “more people have access to a microphone” than they used to, Strømmen offered this as a remedy to the struggle for balance between freedom of speech and avoiding incitement: “We should remember that the same tools that can be used to . . . cause incitement to violence can also be used to monitor them, to understand them.” In other words, he stated that “rational people” should be able to counter extremists with preventive measures that emerge from the same tools and tactics associated with incitement.
Strømmen was followed by Adama Dieng, the UN special adviser on prevention of genocide. Dieng pointed to preparations for the recently held Kenyan elections, indicating that “there have been numerous initiatives to develop ways to . . . counter the kind of hate speech that contributed to the incitement of that violence, in order to prevent a recurrence this time around.” Additionally, he mentioned that the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has held a series of expert workshops that led to the “identification of three main points to be considered when seeking to strengthen national and international efforts to curb incitement.”
First, the OHCHR acknowledged that Article 20(2) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which states that “any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence shall be prohibited by law,” should only be invoked for exceptional or extraordinary circumstances. Second, Dieng stressed the importance of “acknowledging that the human sentiment of hatred and discrimination go deeper than the offenses of discrimination, hate crimes and incitement. We must recognize the limits of legislation to combat hate speech and incitement. We need to develop a multilayered approach to fight the root causes of hate speech, racism, and discrimination.” In this spirit, he indicated the role of the promotion of human rights and tolerance, though he hesitated to place all is faith in the latter, saying that “when we tolerate someone, we accept, but we don’t embrace.” Perhaps it is human rights, then, that can fill this gap and thus complement tolerance education. Finally, Dieng stated that “there is a need for increased national and international monitoring capacities for early warning purposes,” which could be achieved by creative new technologies and media.
Susan Benesch, project director for the World Policy Institute’s “Dangerous Speech on the Road to Mass Violence,” was next. She presented her theory on dangerous speech, which she defines as “certain speech, some subset of speech within this large, vague universe of hate speech . . . [that has] a special, terrible power . . . to move groups of people so that they will condone and eventually take part in atrocities.” Two hallmarks of this she mentioned are dehumanizing language that associates human beings with animals (for example, the Nazis’ reference to Jews as pests or vermin, and the Hutus’ reference to Tutsis as inyenzi, or cockroaches), and what she called “accusation in a mirror.” This occurs when an “inflammatory speaker tells his audience that the other group, the future victims, are coming to get them,” and thus creates an “analogue of the one iron-clad defense to murder in every single legal system: self-defense.” When this happens, violence becomes both acceptable and necessary. In addition, Benesch pointed to a set of five criteria for making an educated guess on the level of danger that particular speech might lead to: the speaker, the audience, the speech act itself, historical and social context, and means of dissemination of the speech.
After Benesch came Frank LaRue, who agreed on the importance of criminalizing incitement to genocide, but emphasized the importance of having a threshold for doing so. As he remarked, it is “very important to maintain the idea that when you’re limiting speech, you’re going to the exception of the rule; the norm should be the openness.” Importantly, he also identified benchmarks for determining this threshold, which include intent, severity and extent of the content, the feasibility and immediacy of harm being produced, and the context within a specific country. When prompted by Abramowitz on a follow-up question, LaRue added that “oftentimes governments are using limitations, which they try to justify as limiting hate speech . . . but they’re actually limiting legitimate debate and dialogue,” which underscores the necessity of remaining aware of country-specific context in evaluating hate speech and incitement.
George Weiss, founder of Radio La Benevolencija Humanitarian Tools Foundation (La Benevolencija), followed LaRue. He explained the work that his organization has done, particularly in Rwanda over the past 10 years, which began when psychologists were invited by the Rwandan government to teach comparative psychology in the country. Noting that studies generated by Yale, Princeton, and New York University had all evaluated the program and produced positive feedback, Weiss reiterated that when audiences like the Rwandan public are afraid of what they are not accustomed to – for example, democratic principles – you must “reach them by giving them virtual examples that they respect,” which are often archetypal or heroic in nature. One example of this is a soap opera titled “New Dawn,” which has run in Rwanda since 2003 and remains the most popular soap opera in the country. As Weiss acknowledged toward the end of his remarks, “You don’t only change knowledge. You embed knowledge, and that has to lead to attitude change.” Indeed, this is the goal of programs like “New Dawn” and similar projects created by La Benevolencija.
The last panelist was Aidan White, director of the Ethical Journalism Network, who stressed a return to the traditional values of journalism. Citing political manipulation and economic and professional crises as having undermined these efforts in recent years, White emphasized that journalism is different from free expression, in that journalism is “constrained expression – you can’t just say what you want to say.” Instead, White argued, journalists must be motivated by “cardinal principles,” including truth, independence, impartiality, accountability, and “[showing] humanity” in the way they do their work.
A range of topics were further extrapolated on as the moderator Abramowitz facilitated discussion on some of the points made by the panelists. This included issues pertaining to particular countries like Libya, Syria, and Iran, as well as Greece, which Weiss pointed out is the first country where a neo-Nazi group has been elected to Parliament. Given that this group, Golden Dawn, has “openly said that the Nazis and Hitler are their role models, [and] that they only got elected into parliament to destroy democracy,” the future of what Weiss refers to as the “destructuralization of Greek society” is certainly in question. White also responded to this, stating, “We need journalism . . . to give us informed background, to give us context, and to give us really important analysis of the consequence of events and how that’s going to affect people’s lives.”
When the conversation moved back to solutions for the debate over freedom of expression, LaRue commented that “never should intervention be censorship,” and instead that “the intervention and the response has to be positive speech.” Benesch supported this statement when she answered a related question, from Abramowitz, on why it is potentially risky to limit speech. She responded by noting that doing so “is to shut down the opportunity to debate, to air grievances, legitimate or not legitimate . . . and if you shut that down, that may in fact increase the likelihood of mass violence itself.” Therefore, while the fine lines that demarcate hate speech, incitement, and freedom of speech remain malleable, advancements made at multiple levels within the international community have certainly added to a greater contextualization of how we might eventually determine more fixed guidelines for establishing each of these boundaries.
An Open Secret:
Remembering the Victims of Nazi Eugenics
Before the gas chambers at Auschwitz-Birkenau and the forced deportation of millions of Europe’s Jews, the Nazis’ plan for racial purity received a trial run at home, against Germany’s own handicapped and disabled. The idea for this operation was an outgrowth of eugenics, an applied science used by the Nazis with the aim of creating a super race, in which only those deemed “fit” would be allowed to procreate. This could be achieved through positive eugenics, which entailed promoting “fit” behavior, or negative eugenics, which meant that individuals deemed genetically inferior would be prevented from having children. By restricting births of those deemed less than human — individuals the Nazis often referred to as “life unworthy of life” — the master race could thus be progressively achieved within German society.
Initially, the Nazis approached eugenics by passing such legislation as the 1933 Law for the Prevention of Hereditarily Diseased Progeny and the 1935 Marriage Health Law. The former included compulsory sterilization on the basis of nine neurological and physical hereditary afflictions, such as schizophrenia and hereditary blindness, and the latter further promulgated the idea of racial inferiority by disallowing Germans with particular hereditary disorders from legally marrying.
While discussion of genocide usually centers on the killing of members of a targeted group — the first of five definitions of the crime in Article 2 of the 1948 Genocide Convention — compulsory sterilization satisfies another condition for genocide. Specifically, Article 2(d) of the convention states that genocide includes “imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group,” as doing so would result in the eventual elimination of that particular people. In addition, given that many institutionalized individuals who were murdered by the Nazis during both its child and adult euthanasia campaigns were slowly starved to death, Article 2(c), “deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part,” was also involved.
In short, euthanasia, an insidious plan that began under the guise of fake hospitals and the provision of allegedly legitimate medical care, swiftly evolved into the murderous campaign embodied in Operation Reinhard, and, ultimately, the totality of Holocaust extermination and death camps for Jews, Roma and Sinti, homosexuals, and all other “inferior” peoples under Nazi rule.
As part of its International Holocaust Remembrance Day commemorations, the Italian Academy for Advanced Studies at Columbia University hosted a panel on February 7 titled “The Unfit: Disability under Nazism and Fascism,” which focused on the plight of these oft-neglected, very first victims of Nazi genocide. The discussion featured Patricia Heberer and Susan Bachrach of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM), as well as the Guido and Mariuccia Zerilli-Marimò Chair of Contemporary Italian Studies at New York University, David Forgacs. Each provided a different perspective on how the Nazis’ quest for racial purity — and the memory of their victims — still has relevance for us today.
The first to speak, Susan Bachrach, focused mainly on the eugenics aspect of the Nazi campaign, and often referenced the USHMM travelling exhibition for which she is curator, Deadly Medicine: Creating the Master Race. In tracing the evolution of eugenics, which emerged as an early 20th-century field of study supported equally by scientists and academics around the world, she summarized the utopian vision that accompanied the science as being “aimed at some kind of perfection of the human race.” Citing both Darwin and Mendel’s work as starting points, Bachrach stated that “eugenics began as a reform problem that was looking at real problems — social and other.” Essentially, countries like Germany, Britain, and the United States saw eugenics as a potential solution to other issues that had plagued their societies. For Germany, a country devastated after World War I, this included in particular poverty and inflation.
As such, the stage was set for a leader like Adolf Hitler to translate eugenics from theory into practice. Indeed, as Bachrach showed during her presentation, Hitler was propagandized as the “doctor” of the German people, and he seized the ensuing political opportunity by employing both positive and negative eugenics tactics to establish a system of racial hierarchy that would eventually culminate in his “Final Solution” to “the Jewish problem.” As such, he exalted the role of the mother by issuing an Honor Cross of German Motherhood to women who had birthed various increments of children (positive eugenics), while also approving the implementation of hereditary family history cards and such hereditary laws as those previously mentioned (negative eugenics).
Bachrach was followed by her colleague, Patricia Heberer, who complemented Bachrach’s presentation on eugenics with her own work on euthanasia, the Nazis’ initial semantic justification for their murderous campaign. Heberer explained that the practice of euthanasia “aimed to restore the ‘racial integrity’ of the German nation,” and went on to discuss the Nazis’ shift from initially targeting children to eventually developing their adult euthanasia program, Aktion T-4, in which over 70,000 mentally ill and disabled Germans were murdered in six different gassing complexes from 1940 to 1941. During the one-year halt to this program, ordered by Hitler, Heberer stated that more than 100 T-4 workers were sent east, to use their “expertise” in the eventual development of death camps like Sobibor and Treblinka.
Importantly, Heberer emphasized that while hers and others’ research on the Nazi euthanasia program has had positive implications for our understanding of history, it has also “overshadowed [the victims’] individual existence and obscured their identity.” As such, the majority of her presentation was devoted to telling individual stories of victims of a Bavarian institution called Kaufbeuren, which was notorious for the savage starvation tactics it employed on its victims. In discussing her analysis of this institution, which has included extensive review of the medical personnel’s documentation, Heberer commented on “the ability or the inability to work” as one of the strongest indicators of a patient’s chances for survival in Kaufbeuren. This emphasis on keeping people around who were able to do work draws an obvious and eerie parallel to the selection criteria later used in concentration camps throughout Europe. In simplest terms, Heberer explained, “a constant need for care was a death sentence.”
The third and final speaker, David Forgacs, brought another element to the discussion by sharing a sample of his work on photographing places of social exclusion. Focusing primarily on mental health institutions during and after the fall of fascism in Italy, Forgacs commented on how the photography charged with telling this particular story had a “way of making these people ‘other’” by persuading its audience to “[look] at the strangeness of the person.” He accompanied his presentation by evaluating the shortcomings of photographic representation of social exclusion by discussing its sensational nature that ultimately “reinforces these people as different from us.”
As each of the panelists demonstrated, the stories of Germany’s handicapped and disabled are powerful and enduring. For her part, Bachrach concluded by saying, “I hope that all of this is a warning,” referring to modern scientific advancements like the human genome project and cloning initiatives — a warning about where we could go “without . . . thinking seriously where that kind of thinking [has] led us in the past.” Even more poignantly, Heberer summed up her remarks by simply reminding us that “those victims of silence still have much to tell us.”
Photo: Michelle Eberhard
Remembering to Look Forward:
Auschwitz, Argentina, and Genocide Prevention in 2013
By ALEX ZUCKER
On this day 68 years ago, Soviet troops liberated the Auschwitz–Birkenau concentration and extermination camp, created and operated by German Nazis. It is of course a day to remember. To remember the facts. To remember the horror. To remember the people. But it is also a day to remember to look forward.
More than 1.3 million children, women, and men lost their lives in the camp, according to the Auschwitz–Birkenau State Museum, which maintains the site for memorialization and education. The vast majority of the people killed there were Jews — murdered as victims of the crime that we now recognize as genocide. At the same time, tens of thousands of other people were also deported to Auschwitz to die because of their identity — Poles, Roma and Sinti, Soviet prisoners of war, homosexuals, and political prisoners. We remember them too on this day.
Each of the human beings slaughtered in Auschwitz–Birkenau, and killed in the Holocaust as a whole — beaten, worked, or starved to death, subjected to ghastly experimentation, raped, tortured, shot, hung, gassed and cremated — each of them came from a family. Each was somebody’s mother or father, sister or brother, daughter or son, wife or husband.
The testimonies of those who survived are one way we know of the suffering and commemorate the loss. Scholarly research helps us to understand how it happened, if less clearly or satisfactorily why. In fact we continue to discover new information about the Holocaust, and with it, our understanding of what happened continues to change.
Yet the promise that emerged from those events, the pledge of “Never Again,” remains to be fulfilled. That phrase, according to the pioneering Holocaust historian Raul Hilberg, first appeared on signs put up by prisoners in Buchenwald at the end of World War II. Very quickly it came to be understood to mean “No More Genocide,” and the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, the first human rights treaty adopted by the United Nations, in 1948, seemed to represent a concrete and important step toward making good on that promise. Since then, however, not a decade has passed without a genocide or atrocity crimes of a similar scale taking place.
In 2008, the Auschwitz Institute organized the first running of its Raphael Lemkin Seminar for Genocide Prevention, named after the man who invented the term genocide and held on the grounds of the Auschwitz concentration camp, in cooperation with the Auschwitz–Birkenau State Museum. While the museum is focused on memorializing and educating about the past, the Auschwitz Institute’s mission — building a worldwide network of policymakers with the tools and the commitment to prevent genocide — looks squarely toward the future.
Our latest initiative — born in 2012 at the request of government officials themselves, with the Auschwitz Institute serving as catalyst — is the Latin American Network for Genocide and Mass Atrocity Prevention. And today, in honor of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, we are proud and excited to present a new model for organizing government to prevent genocide.
Argentina’s National Mechanism for Prevention of Genocide, conceived by the National Directorate on Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law in the Ministry of Defense in collaboration with other national government institutions, is an attempt to put into practice the commitments Argentina undertook when it ratified the Genocide Convention in 1956.
Like the Atrocities Prevention Board created by the U.S. government last year, the Argentinean national mechanism provides for interagency coordination on the federal level. Unlike the U.S. board, however, Argentina’s proposal involves not only the federal government, but provincial (i.e., state) governments as well. Also unlike the U.S. model, it provides for ongoing training and development of education for all relevant civil servants in genocide prevention, human rights, and international humanitarian law, as well as “development of standards and criteria for evaluating mass media, communications, and public relations messaging.” Finally, it envisions coordination in policymaking and processing information with not only the UN but also relevant regional bodies.
The Auschwitz Institute does not believe there is only one way to prevent genocide. In every facet of our work, we support local solutions and insist that each state has the responsibility to develop a means of preventing genocide that makes sense for itself. We are encouraged to see a state like Argentina, with its own terrible legacy of state-sponsored atrocities, not only coming to terms with history but leading the way forward into the future.
So today, as we remember the horrors of the past, we may also take solace in knowing there is progress being made, and new ideas coming to life, in the effort to make “Never Again” more than a slogan.
Photo: Alex Zucker
Why the Whole World Should Be Watching Argentina
By ALEX ZUCKER
On Dec. 19, 2012, a federal court in Argentina sentenced 16 men to life in prison for crimes against humanity during the country’s 1976–83 military dictatorship.
These crimes—kidnapping, torture, murder, and sexual violence—were planned and carried out, by military and civilian officials alike, against activists who opposed the right-wing regime. The number of victims is estimated at 30,000 children, women, and men.
And the judges declared it a genocide. This is why the world should be watching.
On Dec. 9, 1948, the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide was the first human rights treaty adopted by the General Assembly—even before the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Sharp-eyed observers will notice, however, that the Genocide Convention offers protection only to national, ethnic, racial, and religious groups. Political, gender, and sexual identity groups, among others, do not qualify.
This makes it difficult to punish the crime, as the Argentinian scholar Daniel Feierstein explains, “given that nearly all modern genocides are, to some degree, politically motivated.”
In order to resolve this dilemma, Feierstein and his Argentinian colleagues argue that the concept of “partial destruction of a national group” may be interpreted to apply to groups not currently protected under the Genocide Convention.
In Argentina, for example, when the state kidnapped, tortured, murdered, and raped people who opposed the military regime, it was in fact destroying part of a national group: Argentinians—in this case defined by their political stance.
Based on this argument, the judges in Federal Oral Criminal Court No. 1 of La Plata declared that although the men they sentenced on Wednesday were guilty of crimes against humanity, their actions had been aimed at the extermination of a national group and therefore amounted to genocide.
While on the whole the world may be getting less violent, as Steven Pinker claims, it still depends who you are. Ethnic minorities and indigenous peoples; gays and lesbians; women—all remain at risk of being targeted by governments for violence, even outright physical destruction, because of their identity, because of who they are.
Last month’s verdict in La Plata offers a breakthrough approach to punishing those who seek to destroy human identity. Punishment is not enough, of course. The Genocide Convention is also about prevention. But Argentina has taken a step in a new direction. Down the road, it may save lives.
On 4 December, the Leitner Center for International Law and Justice at Fordham Law School presented a panel discussion entitled “Overcoming Genocide Denial.” Professor Martin Flaherty, the event’s moderator, gave the opening remarks.
The first panelist to speak was Dr. Gregory Stanton, founder and president of Genocide Watch. His talk focused on how to deny a genocide, as he notes that denial is the final stage of all genocides. Denial occurs both during and after a genocide, and triples the probability of further or future genocide. It also extends the crime of genocide to future generations of victims. Because of its prevalence, the tactics of genocide denial are predictable:
- Question and minimize the statistics.
- Attack the motivations of the truth-tellers.
- Claim that the deaths were inadvertent (i.e., as a result of famine, migration, or disease, not because of willful murder).
- Emphasize the strangeness of the victims.
- Rationalize the deaths as the result of tribal conflict.
- Blame “out of control” forces for committing the killings.
- Avoid antagonizing the genocidaires, who might walk out of “the peace process.”
- Justify denial in favor of current economic interests.
- Claim that the victims are receiving good treatment.
- Claim that what is going on doesn’t fit the definition of genocide.
- Blame the victims.
- Say that peace and reconciliation are more important than blaming people for genocide.
According to Dr. Stanton, there are ways to prevent denial, such as:
- If the state that is committing the genocide (or in which it occurs) is not a State-Party to the Rome Treaty of the International Criminal Court, the UN Security Council should confer jurisdiction over the situation on the ICC.
- If the genocidal regime has been overthrown, the UN should help the successor government form courts to try the perpetrators.
The next panelist to present was Professor Taner Akçam, who focused on Turkey’s denial of the Armenian Genocide. He posits that one of the main reasons for this denial is that to acknowledge it would be to turn national heroes into villains. Another result of/hurdle to acknowledgement would be that Turkey would have to pay reparations. While state policy may differ from societal attitudes, the lie has gone on too long to simply reverse it and admit the truth–an entire society and culture has been built upon this secret/lie to the point of creating what Professor Akçam refers to as a “communicative reality.” The existence of the Turkish people has been contingent upon the non-existence of Armenians. [Read the full text of Professor Akçam’s presentation.]
The third and final speaker was Professor Sheri Rosenberg. Her presentation was on her experiences with genocide denial in Rwanda. She started by saying that genocide denial impedes healing, reconciliation, and transitional justice. In Rwanda, where perpetrators live side by side with survivors, there are laws against genocide ideology, as well as against discrimination and sectarianism. The genocide ideology law is simultaneously retrospective and prospective but problematic in that it constricts the public space and suppresses meaningful dialogue. This, in turn, can have a negative effect on individual and group conceptions of identity.
After the panelists concluded, the floor was opened for a Q&A session. In discussing Europe and Holocaust denial laws, Dr. Stanton said he believes such laws in general create a problem by instantly opposing free speech. Moreover, they don’t make a distinction between incitement and having amorphous genocidal thoughts. The next topic was Turkey and Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code, which makes it illegal to insult Turkey, the Turkish ethnicity, or Turkish government institutions. Professor Akçam said that if the United State acknowledged the Armenian Genocide, the problem would be solved in about three years because of the economic pressure that would be put on Turkey. Additionally, regional security must include historic injustices.
Another audience member asked about accountability for atrocities committed in Burma/Myanmar. That could be accomplished through the Alien Tort Statute, a section of the United States Code that states, “The district courts shall have original jurisdiction of any civil action by an alien for a tort only, committed in violation of the law of nations or a treaty of the United States.” In other words, U.S. courts can hear human rights cases brought by foreign citizens for conduct committed outside the United States. Dr. Stanton ended the evening by saying that Iran should be brought in front of the International Court of Justice for “Direct and public incitement to commit genocide,” a punishable act under Article 3 of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.
Part 3 in a series by Marissa Goldfaden as she works her way through “Introduction to minority rights, regional human rights mechanisms, and minority rights advocacy,” a new online course offered to the public free of charge by Minority Rights Group International. The course’s stated objectives are to introduce concepts of minority rights and discrimination, develop awareness and understanding of international and regional mechanisms for minority rights, and improve practical skills in lobbying and advocacy.
Topic 3: UN legal instruments protecting minorities
Section 1: Introduction to treaties
A treaty is a legal agreement between states, drafted by them. Within the UN, when the draft is completed, the General Assembly approves or adopts the text. The latter happens through a vote or by consensus. Each state must then decide whether to become a party to the treaty. If a state decides to become a party to the treaty, it must sign the treaty, showing its intention to become legally bound in the future. The state then ratifies the treaty, confirming it will be legally bound by it. This can also be achieved through accession (ratification without a prior signature) or succession, meaning a state expresses its willingness to be bound by international agreements that were entered into by a predecessor state or states. After a certain number of states have ratified, acceded or succeeded to a treaty, the treaty ‘enters into force,’ whereby it becomes legally effective for those states.
When a state ratifies, accedes to, or succeeds to a treaty, it can modify some of the provisions by making a reservation–a statement that changes, or even negates, the provision in an article or part of an article of a treaty. MRG defines an article as “an item in a treaty that lays out an obligation of the states that are bound by the treaty.” Reservations are allowed, except if the treaty expressly forbids it, or if the reservation is ‘incompatible with the object and purpose of the treaty.’ States parties to a treaty can enter a declaration, often a definition or a clarification of what the state believes the treaty provision to mean. MRG points out here that there are two uses of the term ‘Declaration’ in the context of international law:
- The main use of the term is as an international agreement between states that is not legally binding. For example, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Minorities (UNDM).
- As seen here, a declaration can also be a statement of clarification about a provision of a treaty.
Treaties have both strengths and weaknesses. Their strength lies in the fact that unlike declarations, treaties are legally binding. Moreover, when a state ratifies an international human rights treaty, it is compelled to adjust domestic legislation in order to comply with treaty legislation. On the flip side, a treaty is only legally binding on the states which have ratified it. Reservations and declarations to human rights treaties can also constitute a major problem.
Section 2: UN treaties and minorities
There are eight main UN treaties protecting a range of human rights:
- International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)
- Article 27 of the ICCPR specifically refers to minorities. It is the main legally binding provision on minorities in human rights law. It provides that persons belonging to minorities ‘shall not be denied’ the right ‘to enjoy their own culture, to profess and practice their own religion, or to use their own language.’
- International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR)
- International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD)
- International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)
- Convention Against Torture (CAT)
- Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)
- International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (ICRMW)
- International Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD)
Another important treaty relating to minority rights is the International Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. Article I states, “The Contracting Parties confirm that genocide, whether committed in time of peace or in time of war, is a crime under international law which they undertake to prevent and to punish.” Article II defines genocide.
In order to address the issue of governments complying with treaty provisions, the UN has put in place human rights monitoring committees, so-called treaty monitoring bodies made up of human rights experts from different states. These experts are nominated by their governments, elected by states party to the treaties for fixed, renewable four-year terms, and independent, i.e., not representative of their state’s interests.
A treaty monitoring body has been created for each human rights treaty:
|Human Rights Treaty||Treaty Monitoring Body|
|International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)||Human Rights Committee (CCPR)|
|International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR)||Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR)|
|International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD)||Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD)|
|Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)||Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)|
|Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment (CAT)||Committee Against Torture (CAT)|
|Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)||Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC)|
|International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (ICRMW)||Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families (CMW)|
|Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD)||Committee on the Right of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD)|
Treaty-monitoring bodies perform four main functions: reviewing state reports, interpreting the treaty, considering individual complaints, and thematic/general discussions.
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The Genocide Prevention Advisory Network recently issued a conference report from their advanced workshop at The Hague on March 14-15, 2012. Focusing on the emerging global and regional architectures aiming at the prevention of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity, the conference addressed the following questions:
- What guiding principles are emerging to shape the architecture and community of genocide prevention and its relevant fields?
- What can GPANet offer to articulate those principles and strengthen these emerging capacities?
- How can GPANet work in partnership to support and facilitate local, national, regional and international prevention networks?
The papers presented at the conference dealt with the topics of early warning and data gathering and verification systems, case studies on Somalia, linkages with terrorism, and lastly, perspectives on genocide prevention. This final subject is what we’ll focus on, given the work of AIPR.
Discussing Holocaust education and genocide prevention, Yehuda Bauer spoke of the “problematic” text of the Genocide Convention and the resultant inefficacy of the United Nations to prevent or halt instances of genocide post-World War II: two examples being Rwanda in 1994 and Sudan at present. Given the structure of the Security Council, geopolitical interests often trump those of the humanitarian variety. Moreover, Bauer argues that race and ethnicity are modern social constructs, given the singular origin of the human species. This leads to the common “us vs. them” framing that serves to precipitate genocide. All of this is compounded by the fact that, “There is a dialectical development one can discern in international politics, reflecting two contradictory global trends: a tendency towards greater unification on the one hand, and an opposing tendency towards greater autonomy and independence of ethnic and/or national groups on the other hand.”
Gregory Stanton, president of Genocide Watch and formulator of the Eight Stages of Genocide model, noted Genocide Watch’s early warning system and how “[r]apid response by regional alliances has prevented or stopped several genocides: in East Timor, Kosovo, Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia , and Sierra Leone.” He also spoke of the success of international tribunals and the creation of the ICC. Having worked against genocide for 30 years, Stanton says he has learned two things about genocide prevention. He states:
- The first lesson is the direct result of our own human incapacity to comprehend or feel sympathy for large groups of people halfway around the world. Because individuals cannot do that, we need permanent institutions established that will watch out for precursors of genocide, take action to prevent it, intervene to stop it, and arrest and prosecute those who commit it.
- The second lesson I have learned is that genocide prevention must start and be led by people from countries at risk. It cannot be led by an American organization in Washington, DC, led by a pacifist director, that is unwilling to advocate the use of force to stop genocide. Prevention must especially begin from the ground up in countries at risk of genocide. A true International Alliance to End Genocide can support such local efforts and create an international mass movement to end genocide.
Daniel Feierstein then offered “A Critique of the Hegemonic View of the Current Genocidal Conflicts: A Perspective from the Latin American Margin.” His understanding of genocide seeks to dismantle a simplistic “Good People vs. Bad People” scenario and instead puts forth a perspective where genocide is “a technology of power used very successfully to destroy and reorganize social relationships and identities.” He believes “this would be a better explanation of why it continues beyond our collective calls of ‘never again.'” He went on to point out three different initiatives as possible alternatives to the military intervention model:
1. The UNASUR (Union of South American Nations) Experience
Since the UNASUR Constitutive Treaty was signed on May 23, 2008, UNASUR has helped four countries in the region that have experienced the possibility of new violent conflicts: Bolivia (2008), Honduras (2009), Ecuador (2010), and the conflict between Colombia and Venezuela (2010). In each case there was a major crisis with strong potential to trigger atrocity crimes.
2. The Regional Fora on Genocide Prevention
Writes Feierstein, “The idea was to meet all the governments of a region to create an open exchange and debate on how to prevent possible genocidal conflicts. As every government is involved in the discussions, there is a possibility (only a possibility, but we should have little utopias, which are more possible to achieve than the big ones) that the real problems of the regions will appear. It is even possible that some approaches to resolve them will emerge, as there are few instances in which the governments are invited to debate on regional perspectives to analyze and prevent genocide.”
3. The Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Reconciliation
AIPR has organized several meetings with mid- and low-level representatives, with the idea that governments change but there are some kinds of officers who continue in their key positions as professionals and/or bureaucracy. The objective of the AIPR is to train those people in early warning and genocide prevention as a challenge for the future.
The workshop concluded with a concept note by Alice Ackermann on emerging genocide prevention structures in Europe and Liberata Mulamula discussing the same in the context of the Great Lakes region of Africa.