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In this edition of the Auschwitz Institute podcast, Jared Knoll speaks with Dr. Ekkehard Strauss, who has published extensively on protection of minorities, prevention of human rights violations, post-conflict peacebuilding, and human rights responses to mass atrocities. Strauss has been an instructor at the Auschwitz Institute’s Raphael Lemkin Seminar for Genocide Prevention, and was a member of the Task Force on the EU Prevention of Mass Atrocities, which earlier this month released a report assessing Europe’s capabilities to respond to threats of genocide and other mass atrocities.

 

Welcome, I’m Jared Knoll for the Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Reconciliation. In late 2011 the Budapest Centre for the International Prevention of Genocide and Mass Atrocities established the Task Force on the EU Prevention of Mass Atrocities, to look at Europe’s capabilities to respond to threats of mass killings and genocide. They released a report a few weeks ago, which lists four core problems for the capacity to prevent, including issues with coordination and policymaking, and six recommendations to strengthen capabilities, like improving cooperation with other actors and applying a prevention mindset to trade and development policies.

Speaking with me today is a member of that task force, Dr. Ekkehard Strauss. He has worked with the OSCE in Bosnia-Herzegovina, served under the UN High Commissioner, and established himself as a mainstay in the development of peacebuilding, Responsibility to Protect, and atrocity prevention practices. He is currently working as a consultant and researcher in Rabat, Morocco. Hello, Dr. Strauss. Thank you for being here today.

Thank you very much.

Could you start by telling us about the Task Force on the EU Prevention of Mass Atrocities: where the idea came from, what its purpose is, who is on it, and how they arrived at their list of recommendations?

The idea of reviewing mass atrocity prevention capacities of the European Union really came at the time when the U.S. task force started to review the U.S. capacities. And there were different individuals and organizations who tried to convince them to actually undertake a similar exercise. People like David Hamburg, for instance, who was chairing the UN secretary-general’s advisory board on genocide prevention; the Budapest Centre, which was an initiative at that time; the Special Adviser on Prevention of Genocide; and other people. Unfortunately, none of us succeeded in convincing the European Union. So we basically took this initiative forward as a citizen initiative and initiated a process where we invited 12 people with very different experiences, from different European countries, to form a task force and to review these capacities using a methodology which was mixed. First, by a desk review of what is out there on reviews of EU capacity to react to conflict, violence and crisis. And the content you find in the report is basically an analysis of this task force, of the interviews, plus our own experience in crisis situations, and with different European institutions, and what is the state of play in the discussions on genocide prevention today.

How did you personally get involved in atrocity prevention? Can you tell us a little bit about your start in this?

I think one very important part for me was, while I was still undertaking my law studies, to start the basis of an internship with the UN and there being exposed to what it really means to be a victim of systematic violence and state-sponsored, large-scale violence. For me, this was a different dimension to the work on human rights violations due to individuals, due to exceptional situations, and so on. This is serious as well, it’s important to work on it from a human rights perspective, but for me, this other dimension, that states really systematically get after their own people, was like a new encounter. So I wrote a doctorate thesis on prevention of human rights violations, looking at legal standards and trying to look at how they are not reflected in the different institutions we were in the process of creating in the early ’90s, the international ad hoc tribunals and so on. We were basically hoping that some of them would have a preventive effect. And then I had the great opportunity of somehow field-testing many of the things I had worked on in Bosnia immediately after the war, and I moved on to Kosovo and Serbia while the crisis was unfolding there. Then in 2004 I had the great chance to work with Juan Méndez and support him in establishing the Office of the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide. And this was somehow the coming full-round from my different theoretical and field experience to do something that I still find very fulfilling.

And how did you become involved with the Auschwitz Institute?

The Auschwitz Institute, actually Fred Schwartz came to see Juan Méndez, I think back in 2004 or 2005. And he presented his idea of having trainings in Auschwitz. And I think we were — at the beginning, after the first meeting — I think we were a little bit skeptical among ourselves whether this is something that would work and whether people wouldn’t just go home with a lot of overwhelming impressions about the Holocaust, an almost perfect system of destroying people that you are confronted with when you visit Auschwitz. Then when this idea evolved, and we got also our own experience with training of government officials, I think we got more and more fascinated by the idea. And I think it’s a fascinating experience. I think the concept has proven that our skepticism was unfounded. I think it’s a very good concept to actually have people making the transition from looking at the Holocaust, experiencing Auschwitz, experiencing being there and being exposed to this, and going through an experience where you think, “This is exceptional and it cannot happen anywhere else,” to then slowly making the experience of “No, it could happen somewhere else. No, these are average people who committed it. Yes, there was a lot of preparation, ideology, and anti-Semitism and so on that existed,” but I think that for me, this experience from an observer, and then from a teacher’s point of view, was fascinating how it worked for the people who participated.

Do you find yourself optimistic, based upon your experiences doing that and based upon your experiences in assessing the United Nations to stop genocide and mass atrocities, do you find yourself optimistic for the future?

I do. I mean, I’m very optimistic. But I have to say that I’m not optimistic that there will be a world free of genocide. From working on this for quite some time and having visited many of the countries which experience genocide, I think each time and each century has its own genocides, and we might witness genocides while we speak and we will only find out in a couple of years based on legal findings and so on, and say, “Okay, Darfur was a genocide,” and so on. So I’m not optimistic that we will prevent all of them, but I think we can be much better in detecting signs very early and taking them seriously, and intervening at a point where we still do not have these exceptional numbers of victims. I don’t think that long-term prevention will really work in all of the cases. We can educate and train and establish institutions and so on, and this will hopefully do a lot of good with regard to human rights. It might make it more difficult to convince people to participate in systematic killings of particular groups, but for each of those you find  historic examples where they had the same and they had a genocide nevertheless. But I think by making mass atrocities something that is possible, something that is a plausible conclusion to developments on the ground, I think we will contribute to preventing, hopefully, more of these cases. But still I think there are genocides in the making that we don’t even know about. There are situations that we will not capture with our early warning methodology, but nevertheless we should continue and learn, and I’m very optimistic that we get better every day and every month.

Well, I hope the recommendations that you and the task force have given will be a shot in the arm toward that improvement. Thank you very much for talking to me.

Thank you very much—and I’m so glad it finally worked out.

Photo: http://www.dvgn.de

Responsibility to Implement:
Considering Civil Society’s Knowledge and Use of R2P

DPI-NGO

By MICHELLE EBERHARD

In 2001, the Canadian-based International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS) produced a report called The Responsibility to Protect (now often abbreviated as “R2P”). The concept of R2P — as endorsed, in modified form, by the United Nations World Summit in 2005 — centers on the belief that while each state “carries the primary responsibility for the protection of populations from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing,” the international community also has a “responsibility to assist” states in achieving this objective. Emphasizing the contingency of state sovereignty and non-interference in a state’s internal affairs, R2P has challenged previously held norms of humanitarian intervention and persuaded the community of nations to reexamine its approach to future crises that threaten to destabilize countries around the world.

The real test of R2P’s effectiveness, however, remains its ability to be implemented in situations that fit the criteria for its application.  Much of this responsibility lies with civil society and member states, which are tasked with identifying crises for which invoking R2P might be an appropriate response to conflict. The challenge in doing so is to apply R2P in a consistent manner, as the legitimacy and continued relevance of a developing norm is greatly tied to the international community’s perceptions of its use.   As such, it is important that the international community also understand precisely what R2P is intended to be used for.

One way to achieve this is by continuing to educate both NGOs and other members of civil society about R2P, as well as clarifying elements of R2P that have been misconstrued or incorrectly perpetuated. In order to facilitate this, the United Nations’ Department of Public Information-Non-Governmental Organizations (DPI-NGO) held a briefing entitled “Implementing the Responsibility to Protect: The Role of Civil Society and Member States” on March 14 at the International Social Justice Commission Salvation Army. Moderated by Gail Bindley-Taylor, United Nations Information Officer at the UN Secretariat, the presentation included remarks from Gillian Kitley, Senior Officer in the UN Office on Genocide Prevention and the Responsibility to Protect; Sapna Considine, Deputy Director of the International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect; and Naomi Kikoler, Director of Policy and Advocacy at the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect.

Following a brief overview of how conflicts in the 1990s, including the Rwandan genocide in 1994 and the genocide in Srebrenica in 1995, prompted the international community to develop a new approach to state sovereignty as embodied in R2P, Bindley-Taylor turned the floor over to Kitley, who spoke about some of the contemporary aspects of R2P. In particular, Kitley noted a few of the recent advances in its implementation, including an increase in research being done on the topic, as well as the growing number of national focal points within member states. In addition, she cited that R2P, which “is now firmly on the international agenda,” has also “become part of [the] diplomatic language” of governments, international organizations, and commissions.

In regards to the UN’s invocation of R2P, Kitley commented on how the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) has gone through long periods of both use and non-use of the document. In doing so, she also highlighted concerns over the controversial use of R2P in Libya, as the outcome of this crisis left many international actors wondering  if the goal of R2P was “regime change rather than [being] purely aimed at civilian protection.” Stating that this lack of understanding indicated the necessity of developing guidelines for use of force by the UNSC, Kitley reinforced that coercive measures under R2P are rare, and that she thus “[considers] the concerns of member states to be unnecessary.” Instead, she offered the “actual willingness of states and the international community” to promote R2P as being the primary obstacle to its effectiveness.

The second speaker, Considine, centered her commentary on the role of civil society organizations, stating that “R2P is a vital new tool for civil society to hold governments responsible” when they fail to protect their citizens.  Considine divided her talk into two sections, the first of which addressed how the “existing work [of NGOs] already contributes” to the work of R2P.  Here, she noted eight specific examples:

  1. Monitoring and documenting crimes, including identifying indicators of mass atrocities
  2. Sharing early-warning information and assessments with other monitoring mechanisms
  3. Facilitating mediation, negotiation, and dispute resolution
  4. Assisting in the training of civilian protection personnel, including helping civilians to recognize indicators of mass atrocities
  5. Helping with recovery and post-trauma
  6. Supporting and enhancing regional and national justice systems
  7. Advocating for stronger resolutions through adopting legislation and strengthening domestic policies
  8. Supporting local communities in building capacities to recognize threats

In the second section, Considine discussed how NGOs might do more, and focused on four areas of improvement: building understanding of R2P, so as to clarify misconceptions and promote knowledge of the document; “[advocating] for increased norm support for R2P;” strengthening an R2P constituency; and continuing to advance research and policy development initiatives.

Kikoler, the last panelist, focused on what R2P means for the people on the ground, stating that its main purpose is to “strengthen the architecture of prevention.” She began with a personal anecdote of the time she spent in Rwanda following the 1994 genocide, which she contrasted with her grandfather’s survival of Auschwitz during the Holocaust. “What on earth can ‘never again’ mean?” she asked, citing how 50 years after her grandfather’s ordeal, people in another part of the world still experienced the same horrors of genocide.  She answered her own question by simply stating that our task today is to ensure that “[never again] doesn’t continue to mean nothing.”

Specifically, Kikoler posited two challenges to “never again”: the consistency of response, which she exemplified by contrasting Libya and South Kordofan; and a “failure to prioritize prevention.”  Here, Kikoler focused in particular on the financial aspect, noting that it is less costly to prevent atrocities from occurring than to respond to a situation that has already turned to violence.  For example, she discussed the potential of using funds to prevent hate speech, promote education, combat incitement by the media, and assist early-warning groups in an effort to prevent rather than react to conflict. “What can it look like, and how much does that cost?” she asked.  Citing the 2013 elections in Kenya at the end of her presentation, Kikoler offered this instance as an example of how the international community “can develop some best practices . . . on how prevention can make a difference.”

As Kitley stated during the question-and-answer session, “We shouldn’t be looking only at imminent situations.” Indeed, if a conflict has escalated to the point of “imminence,” the opportunity for prevention has likely passed.  This is yet another example of the critical role of civil society and member states in the dissemination of information on R2P, as well as in assisting the effective implementation of its parameters.  While R2P remains imperfect and will likely require continual advancements in both its understanding and use, Kikoler said it best when she ended the conference by stating that “it is better to try to do something than to dismiss R2P in general.”

Image: ulcm.org

Searching for Solutions in Syria:

Questions Concerning the Application of R2P

By MICHELLE EBERHARD

One of the most troubling crises in our world today is the conflict in Syria, where the United Nations estimates that 70,000 civilians have been killed and millions more people are displaced and in need of humanitarian assistance. The unrest, which began in the spring of 2011 with public uprising against Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s repressive governance tactics, quickly escalated into violence from both sides when the military started opening fire on groups of demonstrators, who subsequently formed an opposition government comprised of several rebel factions. The Syrian government pushed the envelope even further when it was discovered in November of last year that its troops were mixing chemicals necessary for carrying out a campaign of chemical warfare. While a potential catastrophe was likely avoided due to immediate condemnation from the United States and the rest of the international community, the fact remains that Syria has the capacity to use these weapons at a later time. More important, despite various efforts to end the conflict, neither Syria’s opposition forces — which have also been shown to be committing crimes against humanity — nor the United Nations has been able to stop President Assad’s murderous attack on civilians, which has resulted in continued destruction of life.

The world community acknowledges that the crimes and atrocities being perpetuated in Syria must end. However, the means by which such an outcome might be achieved remain a topic of debate. In an effort to facilitate discussion around this dilemma, the Peace Islands Institute’s Center for Global Affairs and the Istanbul-based Journalists and Writers Foundation collaborated to host an event on February 28 titled Responsibility to Protect: Implications to the Crises in Syria and Other Nations.”

The program included brief remarks from moderator Roy S. Lee, the permanent observer for the Asian-African Legal Consultative Organization to the United Nations and adjunct professor at Columbia University Law School, as well as presentations from Ambassador Herman Schaper, Permanent Representative of the Netherlands to the United Nations in New York, and Michael Doyle, the Harold Brown Professor of International Affairs, Law and Political Science at Columbia University.

Lee opened the program by addressing the dire circumstances in Syria. Specifically, he referenced nations’ attempts to persuade the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to refer Syria’s case to the International Criminal Court (ICC), as well as the UNSC’s rejection of a draft resolution that would have “come close to Chapter VII actions.” He also highlighted Syria’s recent mobilization of chemical weapons and cited growing concerns among human rights groups that “the time to act is already overdue,” meaning that the next step is to invoke the Responsibility to Protect (R2P). Finally, he noted the United States’ announcement earlier that day that it would be pledging $60 million to assist opposition parties in Syria.

Following Lee’s introduction, Ambassador Schaper began by contrasting the action taken in Libya and the inaction in Syria with respect to the norm of R2P, highlighting how R2P itself was created with the intention of acting as a bridge between moral responsibility and legal obligations. In particular, Schaper referenced paragraphs 138 and 139 of the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document, which appear under the heading of “responsibility to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity,” and assert that while primary responsibility to protect lies with states themselves, the international community also has the duty to take collective action through the UNSC if states “manifestly fail” to uphold this responsibility. As such, Schaper called R2P an emerging norm that represents a “fundamental shift in the doctrine of sovereignty” and reflects “growing acceptance [of the belief that] a state is at the service of its citizens,” and not the other way around. In a similar way, he explained, “whether to act instead became an issue of how and when to act.”

Referring to recent successes of R2P in places like Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, and Libya, Schaper affirmed that “Syria is clearly an R2P situation” due to the crimes there, as well as the “clarity that the government of Syria is manifestly failing in its responsibility to protect.” He continually supported the use of R2P, given its validity, which lies in its “necessary legal basis through resolutions of the Security Council,” and suggested that the only viable option for Syria is to “go for a unified international approach to find a solution through a political tract.”

Professor Doyle expressed similar views, calling R2P “special” and “a landmark development in the international norm of human security.” Doyle’s subsequent remarks centered on what he termed the simultaneous license and leash offered by R2P. The license, he argued, is the capacity to “go beyond standard legal provisions seen in the UN Charter,” so as to invoke the “use of residual pressure” in crises like Syria. In contrast, the leash is represented by a restriction on the use of force to cover only four crimes (genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, crimes against humanity), as well as on the authority for making such a determination – that is, a resolution issued by the UNSC.

After providing a quick overview of international law in relation to Chapter VII of the UN Charter, Doyle moved to the topic of legitimacy, and the question concerning when force could be used without UNSC approval. This discussion, he stated, was the impetus for the creation of the Canadian-led International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS), which produced R2P in 2001 and presented it at the 2005 UN World Summit. In essence, by successfully narrowing down triggers for the use of force, R2P was viewed as something “that was within the purview of the Security Council,” and reflected both a license – the affirmation that the Security Council can, indeed, protect individuals – and a leash – that this exclusive authority is attached only to the UNSC.

In practice, Doyle cited the same examples mentioned by Schaper, and added a few words on the implications of R2P’s use in Libya and, so far, non-use in Syria, stating that some countries might now be feeling “buyer’s remorse.” Given that the crisis in Libya resulted in the death of Muammar Gaddafi and a subsequent regime change, Doyle commented on countries’ fears that R2P might be used in the future for purposes it was not initially intended to address. Nonetheless, Doyle strongly supported the positive potential offered by use of R2P in Syria, and offered two suggestions for action. First, he indicated the need for another conversation to take place on the circumstances under which R2P should be used. Second, Doyle said the UNSC should set up a subcommittee to monitor the implementation of R2P, upon its being authorized. The alternative, he surmised, would be a continued stalemate in Syria.

One of the most important concerns raised in the question-and-answer session was how to measure what is a “reasonable chance of success” as justification for military force under R2P. Doyle responded by underlining how difficult it is to ever prove successful prevention, as “we won’t know that [crimes] haven’t taken place” and thus cannot produce tangible evidence to support such claims. However, he did emphasize that the most essential component is the responsibility to rebuild – to help a people reestablish their own state – because “it would be a sad commentary on R2P if it was only [used for] military purposes.” Doyle concluded with perhaps an even better remark on “reasonable chance” criteria, insisting that success should truly be measured by whether or not it was acceptable to and accepted by those it hoped to – and hopefully did – protect.

Photo: Michelle Eberhard

In this edition of the Auschwitz Institute podcast, Jared Knoll speaks to Dr. James Waller, Academic Programs Director for the Auschwitz Institute, as well as Curriculum Coordinator and Instructor for the institute’s Raphael Lemkin Seminar for Genocide Prevention. He currently holds the position of Cohen Chair of Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Keene State Collge. In 2002, he published the first edition of Becoming Evil: How Ordinary People Commit Genocide and Mass Killing and he is now working on his next book, titled Genocide: Ever Again? anticipated for publication in 2014. He has conducted fieldwork in Northern Ireland, the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, and Argentina.

 

Welcome, I’m Jared Knoll with the Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Reconciliation. So far in these podcasts we’ve spoken with individuals doing amazing things in the field of genocide prevention. Today I’m taking a look inward at the Auschwitz Institute itself. Why it’s here, what it does in the field of genocide prevention, and how it uses the tools available to effect positive impacts. Speaking with me is Dr. James Waller, author of the book Becoming Evil, coordinator for the Raphael Lemkin Seminar for Genocide Prevention, and the Academic Programs Director for the Auschwitz Institute. Thanks for talking to me today, Jim. It’s good to have you with us.

 Thanks, Jared, it’s great to be with you. I appreciate you giving me the opportunity.

So how was it, Jim, that you first got involved with the Auschwitz Institute?

My first connection with the institute came in 2007. I was at a conference of the International Association of Genocide Scholars in Sarajevo, and before the conference Fred Schwartz had sent out a note to everyone who was going to participate at the conference, explaining a little bit about his vision for the Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Reconciliation. And it happened that Fred and his wife, Allyne, came to a presentation where I gave a talk on my work on perpetrators of genocide and mass atrocity, and immediately after my talk Fred came up, and Allyne, and asked me to join them for dinner that evening with John Evans, and Deborah Lipstadt, and Tibi Galis, and a few other people, and at the dinner Fred talked a bit more about his vision for the institute.

And in some subsequent conversations over the next few months, he and I chatted about my work, and how it might fit within the institute itself. And I think really, for me, Fred opened up the next chapter for my work in perpetrator behavior, to think about it from a standpoint of how it might apply itself to prevention. And at the inaugural seminar, the Raphael Lemkin Seminar for Genocide Prevention we had in May 2008, I was honored to be one of several different instructors of that seminar. And since that time I’ve been able to participate in every single seminar we’ve had, with kind of increasing responsibilities that today have led up to the position of academic programs director.

 So it sounds like, in starting with the institute, it changed you as much as a person as it changed your work.

Yeah, I think it did very much. I think I really had not made a connection of what I did with issues of prevention. I think in my courses I talked about the need to make “never again” a reality, but I really didn’t know what that meant in practice, or even in theory. And so I think Fred’s great challenge, and I think really the genius of the institute, is to say that we have to marry all of the great work being done in academic research, with fieldwork, and policymaking, policy implementation, that we need to get this information outside of academia to the people who matter more than academics in this area, and that’s people who make policy and implement policy at governmental levels. And Fred’s push, and I think really the institute’s push to have that cross-boundary conversation, has really been the key to the success of the institute to this point.

What sorts of things has the institute done so far, in that sort of respect, in fieldwork and in effecting policy change. What has it done so far, do you think, that has contributed most to preventing genocide?

You know our legacy to this point, just about five years into it, is pretty remarkable in terms of the couple of hundred policymakers that we’ve trained through the Raphael Lemkin Seminars for Genocide Prevention, the several dozen U.S. military personnel that we’ve trained through the Fort Leavenworth program that has come through Auschwitz as well, I believe in three different seminars. So I think what we’ve done is bring to people who might not otherwise have had access to this information, some of the cutting-edge information on genocide prevention. And really, what I think broadly about what we’ve tried to accomplish at these seminars, it really is trying to help people understand what genocide and mass atrocity crimes are, from a legal perspective, from a ground perspective.

Secondly, trying to help them understand what the risk factors are for genocide and mass atrocity prevention. And thirdly, and this is most important whether it’s military or policymakers, trying to help them understand what leverage and responsibility they have in their unique positions, where they can make a difference in the face of this. And I think we’ve built a network of people who have some really fairly nuanced understanding of the challenges of genocide and mass atrocity prevention, who I think draw on each other for information as much as they draw on us. And I look at the development even of our Latin American Network for Genocide and Mass Atrocity Prevention, which developed from one of the participants in our very first seminar, who went back and recognized that the strength of what genocide prevention could be, would lie really in strong regional efforts. And the opportunity we have to work on that in Latin America, and now in an emerging program in Africa, to build capacity for regions, and states within regions, to make a difference here. I think that’s really been the legacy, an incredible legacy, of just the five years of this institute.

What do you think the biggest challenges are in achieving those missions as we currently define them?

Jared, I think the biggest challenge is that prevention isn’t as appealing as intervention. Intervention kind of has a heroic “something’s going on, we come in, we stop it.” Clear, concrete stuff that you can use for a newscast or a video clip. I mean it’s just something, for lack of a better word, heroic, about that kind of heroic, about that type of intervention that makes news. Prevention doesn’t have that same focus. When we do good prevention, people never hear about it. People never know about it because we’ve prevented something from occurring, or we’ve prevented a conflict from escalating into genocide and mass atrocity. So it doesn’t quite capture peoples’ imagination as much, simply because we’ve stopped something from occurring, as opposed to something like intervention.

So I think our challenge is trying to rise above that and say that the costs of prevention are so much less, in every way, than the costs of intervention. And while prevention may not seem quite as heroic an effort as intervention, that it just makes economic sense, it makes sense in terms of life and loss of life, it makes sense on every level for us to invest in prevention, rather than stepping in to stop conflict, once it’s escalated to this point.

Do you think that as a society, and especially as a Western society, we run up against the same sorts of hurdles, where we understand that it’s better to educate than to imprison, it’s better to have nutrition than to have open heart surgery. Do you think that we’re going to run up into those same issues where we just don’t want to think about the hard work that has to be done beforehand, and we prefer to just wait and see?

 Yeah, no, I think you’re exactly right. I think with some of the biggest problems, for instance, facing American society, we tend to focus on them once they become a problem, and we want to somehow stop the problem with some direct intervention, when much of the groundwork could have been done ahead of time. But again, it just isn’t easy if you’re a politician to get funding, for instance, to do things that are preventive. It’s easier to get funding to do things that intervene and stop a problem as it’s ongoing. But the question is, can we have a longer-range vision to help us understand the tremendous benefits of preventing these problems before they start, rather than responding to them once they’re in place. And I think we’re seeing changes in that. I think we’re seeing changes certainly at the UN level, and understanding issues of genocide prevention. Certainly in the U.S. with the Atrocities Prevention Board, that’s a positive step forward as it starts to develop. Other regions, other countries have started to take prevention seriously. So I think we’ve got to the point where people are starting to get the message. We just now need to keep reinforcing what do prevention policies and practices look like.

So if we could overcome all of the challenges, and if you could imagine the best possible outcome in five years, where would the Auschwitz Institute be, and what might it achieve?

 That’s a great question. I think that for anyone that works in the field of genocide studies or genocide prevention, part of your hope is that one day your field is obsolete, it’s no longer needed. I guess in some ways I think about that when I think about the work of the institute. I hope one day this institute’s not needed any longer, because we simply aren’t facing this problem. I don’t think we sit anywhere close to a world, though, where that’s a reality. I mean the pressing population growth, scarcity of resources, the increase in number of nation-states and contested boundaries, all of these things just lead us, unfortunately, to some pretty dire predictions about what the world will be like and continue to be like in terms of conflict, and also in terms of escalation into genocide and mass atrocities. So I think unfortunately the work of the institute is absolutely still going to be needed five years from now.

I think, for me, our greatest successes will be what capacities have we built for regions and nation-states. In other words, our seminars that they get involved in are meant to empower them to go back and make differences in their own communities and in their own regions. The more that we can enable people to do that work, rather than people coming to us for that work, or coming to the UN for that work, the more that states can build the capacity to do this work in their own state, I think the better off we’d be. So it is, for me, that would be a great point for us to be at five years from now, is to continue to point to programs like in Latin America, like in Africa, where we’ve built capacities for states and regions to engage in genocide and mass atrocity prevention.

You wrote a book called Becoming Evil: How Ordinary People Commit Genocide and Mass Killing. Would you like to tell us a little bit about that book, and about the next book you’re working on?

Yeah, sure. Becoming Evil was first published in 2002 and a second edition in 2007, and basically the central thesis of the book is that it’s ordinary people like you and me who commit the vast majority of genocide and mass killing. And what I’m trying to look at there is how is it that ordinary people become transformed into people capable of committing these atrocities. And I argue in this book that very few perpetrators are born.

In other words, we don’t have people waiting to perpetrate these atrocities just as soon as they’re given permission. I think these are people who, by and large, could never envision themselves committing the type of atrocities we see in genocide and mass killing, but over time become involved by their own choice, by some limited circumstances, in situations that begin to transform their view of the other, the target group, begin to transform their sense of responsibility to their society. Begin to transform their view of the worth and sanctity of human life. And over time they come to think that it’s not just right to do the killing they do, but that it’s wrong to not do the killing. And so as a psychologist I try to understand, or lay out a model, for what are the forces that kind of transform, and influence, and shape people in this direction. While at the same time absolutely saying that these people still hold personal, legal, moral, philosophical accountability for the crimes they’ve committed.

So that’s the work in Becoming Evil. The next book I have contracted with Oxford University Press is a book on partly the history of genocide, but also a thematic book on themes like justice, truth, memory. There’ll be a large chapter on genocide and mass atrocity prevention, that’s part of the book as well. So really it’s a book to introduce educated readers, policymakers, college or university students, to what genocide has looked like historically, and then from that very specific picture to step back and say, what does the study of genocide tell us about justice, how a society rebuilds itself, about the role of truth in rebuilding, about the role of memory? What does it push us to to understanding prevention? And really it’s a book that, had I not been involved with the Auschwitz Institute, I don’t think I would have had that broad a view of understanding genocide, so really it’s in large part my work with the institute that’s led to this book, in many ways.

Do you think that it’s more helpful and more useful, when dealing with that sort of thing, to focus more on the beliefs and the ideological factors that come from things like ethnicity or ethno-symbolic identification, or do you find it’s more effective in finding the roots and causes to focus on economic and political factors?

Yeah, you know I’m going to follow in this book what I followed in Becoming Evil, which is to say that I’m very suspicious of monocausal explanations, or explanations that focus on one thing particularly, or maybe two things. I think in anything as complex as this there’s a variety of explanations, and the question is how do they go together, how do they influence each other? Is ideology a part of it? Absolutely so. I mean, belief systems, worldviews, cultural models are incredibly important to perpetrator behavior and understanding the outbreak of genocide and mass atrocity. But I do think there are other structural factors that put societies at risk that we need to understand, poverty being one of those, one of many of those factors. So I’m not wanting to reduce it to say that this is it, there’s just one or two things here we need to focus on. I’m really wanting to understand that multiplicity of factors, and then how those factors interact in these societies. And part of that is understanding that there are a lot of societies on the verge, possibly of genocide and mass atrocity, that don’t take that step. That don’t have that trigger that brings a society into that type of large-scale atrocity. So understanding the things that put a break on genocide and mass atrocity, I think, can be just as important as understanding the things that start to compel a society to think this is their only possible political, social, economic solution, is to exterminate a large group of its population.

Well, I think you’ve given us a lot of reasons for optimism. I hope you’ll come back soon and share a few more.

Thanks Jared, very much appreciate it.

Photo: http://www.keene.edu/news/stories/detail/1345061541160/

In this edition of the Auschwitz Institute podcast, Jared Knoll speaks to Kate Doyle, a senior analyst for the National Security Archive in Washington, DC, whose work has been key to putting together the facts of the genocide against Guatemala’s Mayans under the country’s military dictatorship in the 1980s. She went into Guatemalan records and tracked the chain of command that allowed lawyers representing victims to get a ruling in Spain classifying the case as a genocide. Last year she received the ALBA/Puffin Award for Human Rights Activism last year, and currently she is conducting new research into mass atrocities in Guatemala.

 

Welcome, I’m Jared Knoll with the Auschwitz Institute. Today we’re looking at the criminal trial of Efraín Ríos Montt, who is considered to be at the center of culpability for the mass killings in Guatemala, which came to a peak under his dictatorship in the ’80s. He faces charges for 15 massacres in the Ixil region, and the deaths of 1,771 unarmed men, women, and children during his reign in 1982 and 1983. The trial opened at the end of January with Montt facing charges of genocide and crimes against humanity.

Speaking with me now is Kate Doyle, a forensic archivist working for the National Security Archive in DC. She played a major part in tracking down the chain of command that allowed lawyers to get a ruling in Spain that the case amounted to genocide, which has led us to the ongoing trial. Hello, Kate. It’s good to have you here with us.

Hi, Jared. Thanks for having me.

Can you tell us a little bit about the factors leading up to this historic trial and the work you’ve done contributing to it?

Sure. The efforts on the part of Guatemalans to bring Ríos Montt and the senior military command, and many others, to justice, since the end of the long, 36-year civil conflict in 1996, has itself traveled a very long road. The initial filing on the charges of genocide and charges against humanity against Ríos Montt and seven of his co-conspirators, in Spain, took place in 1999. So, many years ago, the case was filed by a well-known Mayan activist in Guatemala named Rigoberta Menchú, the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize many years ago. Rigoberta filed the case shortly after the Spanish court had indicted General Augusto Pinochet of Chile, in an effort to try him under the principle of universal jurisdiction for crimes committed in his country. That took place in 1998. So Menchú and the organizations and massacre survivors that she represented decided to file a case based on the same model of international human rights justice in 1999. And that case began to work slowly, slowly through the system of the court in Spain.

And in the meantime, in 2000, the following year, again, a group of survivors that belonged to an organization called the Association for Justice and Reparations, and another group, the Centre for Human Rights Legal Action, inside Guatemala — these are Guatemalan activist organizations — filed a case in the Guatemalan national court, charging Ríos Montt and his senior military command with genocide and crimes against humanity in, again, the year 2000. That process, that parallel process, has brought us to the point we are today, with the Guatemalan case actually going to trial finally, earlier this year.

What significance does it have for the victims and their families?

Well, this is an extraordinary development, obviously. The survivors of the massacres and the family members of those who did not survive have been working to see this day for 30 years. So you can imagine that there is a tremendous amount of sort of supressed excitement — sometimes not so suppressed; people do shout out and applaud sometimes in the courtroom — but in general, people are there to observe and listen, and there is a tremendous amount of hope. People have come on buses from all over the country in this particular trial, since it focuses on an area of one of the rural departments of Guatemala known as the Quiché. The Ixil communities that were affected by the massacres in that region in 1982 have sent representatives down to Guatemala City to observe the hearings: the various presentation of evidence, and the arguments of the defense and prosecution to this point.

So it’s really been a very emotional experience for many, many people to watch this unfold, as slow and considered as it has been. And it is a very, very important victory, I think, for those communities. Just to see this man, and in this case his senior military intelligence chief, José Rodriguez, have to sit in the courtroom and listen to the presentation of the case by the prosecution. That alone has been really quite an extraordinary experience for people.

So it’s quite important, then, that this case is being tried in a national court, rather than an international tribunal?

It is. I mean, I think it’s the international case, the case introduced by Rigoberta Menchú and many others, in 1999 in Spain, has been a critical catalyst, pressure, prod for the national case. So in no way would I want to diminish the importance of that effort and that process, because that has had a very particular and powerful effect on getting this national case to move along.

That said, of course it is especially resonant for people, and powerful for people, to see Guatemalan lawyers in a Guatemalan courtroom, arguing before a Guatemalan judge, on the outlines of these terrible crimes that were committed by the Guatemalan military against its own citizens. So yeah, it has a special power, the fact that this is being held in a national court, and I think it’s important to recognize that there really isn’t another case we can think of around the world where a country has been willing and able to try one of its own former heads of state on charges of genocide, in its own court, without international support and contribution, and the presence, usually, of international judges. So this is really groundbreaking, I think, all around the world, in terms of international justice.

How do you think that Ríos Montt has been able to escape this for so long and remain immune, immune to these charges?

Ríos Montt’s ability to avoid prosecution on human rights crimes is the result of a confluence of all kinds of factors. First of all, the war didn’t end until 15 years after the crimes in this particular case were committed. So you had an armed internal conflict continuing all this time, and the Guatemalan military was an absolute front, center player in Guatemalan politics, government, security, the economy, every aspect of Guatemalan life until very, very recently. Another reason is that Ríos Montt in the early 1990s created a political party and became a member of congress. And that gave him immunity, for years and years, from prosecution of any kind related to the wars.

And that, I think, is linked to a third reason why it has taken so long for Ríos Montt to be tried, and that is the Guatemalan justice system was severely damaged during the civil conflict. The military stocked it with judges who were either former military people, relatives of military, or just friends to the military: very conservative, very supportive. Also, the judiciary system was systematically targeted for intimidation, threats, attacks, murders. There were a number of judges that were murdered both during and after the conflict.

So all of these factors — the ongoing war that lasted well into the 1990s; Ríos Montt’s own immunity that he managed to get by becoming a member of congress, even from the worst, most heinous crimes imaginable, such as genocide or the crimes against humanity with which he’s charged now; and the weakness of the justice system in Guatemala — all of that, plus the just across-the-board lack of political will to try members of the military for human rights crimes, conspired to delay and obstruct the process of justice for decades.

What implications do you see this having in the field of human rights law, specifically dealing with cases of mass atrocities?

One of the reasons this trial happened is because of the pressure that was brought to bear on the Guatemalan justice system, and the government in general. Internally, there was an incredibly sustained, committed amount of work that went on, on the part of the survivors’ organizations, the human rights groups, and the organizations committed to human rights justice there. But internationally, the role that the Spanish case played in continuing to push this on, and continuing to focus international attention on this case was also critical.

Is there anything exceptional about this particular case of these 15 massacres that allowed that to happen?

One of the elements that has been exceptional, and I think this is also critical for these trials, has been the identification of evidence. In the case of the Guatemalan Ixil region, where these 15 massacres — as opposed to the hundreds of other massacres that took place during the conflict — were carried out,  is that number one, there have been multiple exhumations done: the unburying of the massacred dead over the last 15 years. And those exhumations have been done almost exclusively by a nongovernmental organization called the Forensic Anthropology Foundation of Guatemala.

They have been able to compile extraordinary, powerful evidence of the identification of the people found in these mass graves, hundreds and hundreds of men, women and children. They’ve been able to put together profiles on the kinds of people targeted, and clearly these were not all men carrying weapons. These were people of all ages, down to infants, who often had their hands tied, or had been blindfolded, or otherwise constrained before killed. So this kind of data, matched with a DNA laboratory in Guatemala City, where the office has its headquarters — that has been crucial for the development of the evidence in this case.

And the other piece of evidence that has been central to the case has been the appearance of documents from inside the Guatemalan military command. These are records that were provided to the National Security Archive by sources that have requested anonymity, but we’ve been able to, over the course of many months, verify the authenticity of these materials. And these are basically both the commands — on the part of the Guatemalan senior military command, back in 1982, to carry out the scorched-earth operations that targeted these Ixil communities — and the reports from the field, as the patrolling units were walking through the villages and encountering civilians and killing them; encountering fields of corn and burning them down so people wouldn’t have food to eat; encountering peoples’ homes and schools and churches, and razing them to the ground. These reports were sent back up the chain of command to the army chief of staff in Guatemala City, and we now have these reports, and they are at the heart of this case.

Sounds like this is just the beginning. Do you think there is a possibility that U.S. officials could end up being charged in connection with the crimes?

Well, who would charge them, Jared? I think that’s the problem. It is certainly going to be a closely examined question as to precisely who within the U.S. government supported, aided, abetted the doctrine and the strategy behind these counterinsurgency operations. It will be a closely examined question whether or not the United States provided material assistance of any kind. And it will be an equally closely examined question as to what extent U.S. officials were responsible for how that war was waged and the civilian deaths that resulted. The problem with that line of inquiry is what comes next? Who is going to take on an indictment of U.S. officials for the crimes of genocide in this case, or for aiding and abetting the human rights violations that took place?

I know that in Spain, Balthazar Garzón, the judge in the Pinochet case, did try to open an investigation, and I know that U.S. officials —  we know through the Wikileaks documents — flew to Spain to pressure the Spanish government to drop that case. So I think that’s a fascinating and worthy investigation to carry out, and I will be very curious to see how that would be implemented, and in what court, under what legal jurisdiction.

Well, thank you so much for being here with us, Kate. It was a pleasure to have you. 

All right, Jared. Thanks for the invitation. It was great talking.

Photo: http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/news/20120203/index.htm

An Open Secret:
Remembering the Victims of Nazi Eugenics

 By MICHELLE EBERHARD

Patricia Heberer discusses clandestine activity at the Hadamar Crematorium as part of the Nazi euthanasia program during World War II.

Patricia Heberer discusses clandestine activity at the Hadamar Crematorium as part of the Nazi euthanasia program during World War II.

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

In this edition of the Auschwitz Institute podcast, Jared Knoll speaks to Bridget Conley-Zilkic, lead researcher on the How Mass Atrocities End project. Conley-Zilkic did her Ph.D. on cultural responses to humanitarian interventions in Bosnia and Haiti, has been research director for the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Committee on Conscience, and currently serves as Research Director for the World Peace Foundation.

 

Welcome, I’m Jared Knoll with the Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Reconciliation. With me today is Bridget Conley-Zilkic, research director for the World Peace Foundation. She’s also lead researcher for the How Mass Atrocities End project. One year ago, she and two others published an article bearing the same name. It challenged some of the connections between idealistic goals and on-the-ground realities in genocide prevention. In June, she put out another piece, exploring and explaining the complex and challenging nature of the field of genocide prevention, which can become problematic even at the definitional level. Hello, Bridget. Thank you so much for joining me today.

Thank you for having me.

Can you tell us a little bit about the project you’re working on and how it got started?

The project How Mass Atrocities End is a sort of multifaceted research project. We’re looking at trends across 50, possibly more, cases from the 20th century, trying to get consistent information about how atrocities ended in each of those cases, so that that can inform our analysis.

The second part of the project is a seminar series. We regularly host seminars — we’ve done several already, and will continue — on places and themes related to the ending of mass atrocities. We bring together key experts, regional experts, thematic experts, researchers, for two days of intensive closed-door discussion, trying to explore the political dynamics around ending atrocities.

The third part: engaging in in-depth research on five, possibly six, cases of mass atrocities. These are from more recent history. We’re not going back to colonial or World War Two-era cases. And in these cases we’re asking our researchers to start studying their case from that question of what caused the violence to decrease, and from there, hopefully unearthing not only answers to that new question, but also unearthing new information about the cases that they’re working on.

And from that information, or from that data that you’ve gleaned, what are the implications of what you’ve found for the field of genocide prevention and perhaps for the international community?

We’re fairly early in this research. It was conceived as a five-year project and we’re one year into it. So we don’t have direct policy recommendations by any means, at this point. Some of the trends, though, of what we’re seeing I think are interesting. For one, just the comparative historical basis. In the study of cases across the 20th century, for instance, we had to come up with a way to have a consistent case selection. We decided to go with a numerical threshold of 50,000 or more civilian deaths within a five-year time frame.

Now, interestingly, in the study of genocide, for instance, that is a fairly low number, if you look at the cases that are within the genocide canon, most of which get over 100,000 quite easily — over a million in the most notable cases. However, we found with those high numbers that we could not include almost any of the contemporary cases that, for instance, the anti-genocide movement is working on. The thresholds are so much lower today than they were at previous times.

So that prompts a series of questions that we continue to explore, about whether or not some of the insights and research that have been done on genocide and really high-level targeted civilian killing, do they adhere to lower levels of killing? Might we maybe be looking at the wrong patterns? Might we need to set our sights on slightly different criteria, and understand and try to anticipate how violence unfolds in new and different ways? So that is one question. Another one is we’re trying to get a better sense of the political context that enables mass atrocities to take place — or what you might call the permissive environment — and trying to understand that larger context and logic that governs violence.

Now this is something that a lot of researchers are doing. They’re looking at more strategic uses of violence and then trying to understand how that intersects with the dynamics of ending violence. So how are goals met? Are there other ways that one could potentially intervene — and numerous ways, I don’t mean [only] military — that might hasten ending? If we start from a study of that political dynamic, then we can potentially unearth a different range of options than starting from an assumption that the violence is inevitably going to escalate to total killing for the sake of killing a particular group.

It sounds like you’re talking about a paradigm of outlook for the actors involved. How do you think that we got to there, and how do you think we can make these attitudinal changes at the levels that are necessary to do so?

I think at this point, like I said we’re at the very early stages, so I don’t know exactly what we’ll find overall . The one thing that we are finding, though, is somewhere in between a really structuralistic approach that looks at conditions in sort of an inevitability into how killing will evolve — that on the one side, and then the other, the idea of complete individual agency. Of actors who fully own their acts, in the sense that they have all options open to them and simply choose to kill for whatever strategic reason.

But we also have to understand the political systems and the ways in which power operates, and then the ways in which violence takes place within that system. And I think somewhere in there, in the political organization of society, and the place that violence— how it operates within different political system — I think we will end up understanding the phenomenon better. Now, how that will lead to changing approaches, I’m not sure yet.

Are you optimistic that one day state actors are capable of changing that approach?

I think without question. I think if we start looking at that question that I mentioned earlier, about scale of violence, and how the cases that we see ongoing today — even the worst cases, the ones that I think most demand our attention and new innovations in civilian protection — they are just nowhere near the heights of violence that we have seen over the past century.

Now, we know that violence against civilians has the capacity to spike incredibly vicious rates, so we’re not saying to be complacent, but I think that we can see change in the degree to which states use violence — and non-state actors, although I think that needs a lot more work. And because we can see change over time, I think that we should remain optimistic that further change can occur.

It’s interesting. You’re talking about how maybe they were getting a little bit more into non-state actors, worrying about the sorts of systematic violence they can be capable of. Do you see that as a particularly worrisome trend evolving? It’s not something we have seen so much in the past — the threat of potential mass atrocities from non-state actors.

You know I don’t know. There’s a lot of talk that it is increasingly a threat, and I’m not sure if it is increasingly a threat, or if, given the decline in state-based violence, if it is a threat that is increasingly visible. That remains a big question for me, so I don’t want to make statements about momentous change in terms of what is actually happening. I’m not sure. It might be the case, but I just don’t know. Or momentous changes in how we’re perceiving, in our expectations, for what violence constitutes internationally meaningful violence. So I’m just not sure about that, and I think there’s a lot of work that’s being started on non-state actors, and there definitely needs to be a good deal more to understand those patterns.

Do you think that there’s a problem with how we define genocide? Do we need to be more inclusive, accounting for instances of mass killing based in economic, social, or political criteria? Or do you think we need to focus more on traditional understandings of what that means?

I think in part this is why we chose to frame our project with the term “mass atrocities,” rather than “genocide.” Because beyond any specific alteration to the legal definition [of genocide] — whether you wanted to include, as you mention, economic or political groups or gender groups, for instance — there are those questions about what it includes or excludes simply by being such a specific legal guideline for understanding political violence. But I think there are other challenges with the term as well.

I think it is often employed not as a descriptive or legal term, but more as an ethical term. And the debates over whether or not genocide has or has not occurred get mired down, I think, in debates about whether and how we should treat the demands of violence. The term becomes almost an exclamation point or a highlighter for saying, “This is violence that demands exceptional attention, exceptional response.”  And in that sense, in working on it in an analytical research project, I find it’s not helpful. That’s why we’ve chosen to work with mass atrocities, and to give it a definition that is much more objective.

Thank you so much for joining me today, Bridget. It was a pleasure having you.

Thank you very much.

Photo: fletcher.tufts.edu

In this edition of the Auschwitz Institute podcast, Jared Knoll speaks to Mickey Jackson, Student Director of STAND, the student-led movement to end mass atrocities. Jackson has been part of the movement since 2008, when he served as a high school outreach coordinator.

 

Welcome. I’m Jared Knoll with the Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Reconciliation. With me today is Mickey Jackson, director of a student-led movement called STAND, which uses advocacy, lobbying, and other strategies to prevent and mitigate mass atrocities. Hello, Mickey. Good to have you here with us.

Good to be here.

Can you start by telling me a little bit about what STAND does and why it’s entirely student-led?

Sure. I mean what you just said in your introduction pretty much captures it. Basically, STAND is a student-run organization that seeks to build permanent anti-genocide constituencies on campus and in communities around the country. What we’re most interested in is really empowering students to take ownership of their advocacy, because we feel that by doing that we not only give students something to do while they’re in high school or while they’re in college, but we help develop them into lifelong leaders.

So we see ourselves not only as participating in anti-genocide advocacy efforts in the here and now, but we also see ourselves as developing the next generation of human rights policymakers, human rights organizers, thought leaders, and so forth. That’s why we consider it to be so important that we are student-led. Because obviously the best way of developing into a leader is to be a leader. So we feel that by giving students ownership of anti-genocide advocacy — not only at the local level, but at the national level as well — we’re helping to create that new generation of informed, responsible human rights advocates.

Are you optimistic from that, that there is a possibility maybe one day, maybe one day soon, that a really significant measure of U.S. national security interests can be shifted toward international human security interests instead?

I am optimistic, because I think over the last couple years we’ve seen that happening. We’ve seen the Obama administration explicitly identify atrocities prevention as a core national security interest of the United States, and I think that language is very important: that it’s not just a core moral imperative or a core humanitarian imperative — it’s the notion that it is actually a core national security interest of the United States. And that’s very important because I think we would all agree that while moral considerations are nice and humanitarian considerations are nice, when it comes to foreign policy governments ultimately act on the basis of perceived national security interests. So that to me is a reason to be optimistic. One of the challenges that I think will arise is making sure that that continues after this administration leaves.

I think that’s a very pragmatic and grounded approach to it. There’s been some serious criticism recently of the American anti-atrocity movements over the past few years, such as former activist Rebecca Hamilton’s critique of Save Darfur. How do you measure success in the light of these sorts of reactions?

Two things to that. One of the things that I’ve always found admirable in the students who are involved in STAND’s constituency is that they are very open to criticism, and in fact often they’re the ones doing the criticizing, and holding not only STAND as a national organization, but also I would argue holding STAND and the movement accountable. And I think what you see in STAND’s constituency is a willingness to question past approaches, a willingness to think critically about how successful we have been as a movement. So I think there’s very much the attitude that we shouldn’t get defensive in the face of criticism. We should listen to it, and we should try to amend our approach accordingly.

In terms of how we measure success, in one sense you can measure success very mechanistically in terms of the policy changes that the movement brings about. I think you could make the argument that the creation of the Atrocities Prevention Board represents a discrete success of the movement. The progression over the past 10 years of the creation of a constituency that actually cares about atrocities prevention, and the recognition among policymakers that that constituency exists. We try to take a longer view as well, and recognize that in many ways our impact, at least if we do our jobs right, we hope that our impact will ultimately be in the leaders that we develop. Our impact, ideally, 20 years down the line, will be the creation of this next generation of informed, responsible human rights advocates and policymakers.

Do you think that — based on some of these criticisms, where the American anti-atrocity movements fall short — do you think that’s more due to a problem with public conviction, or do you see it more as a problem with the state’s ability to exert influence globally, like has been suggested?

You know, I think the obvious answer is that it’s some combination of both. I do think over the past couple years — between the fact that the financial crisis led to more of a focus on domestic issues, as well as the belief that our interventions, so to speak, in Iraq and Afghanistan largely failed, or at least can’t really be seen as unambiguous successes — I do think that sort of led to a skepticism among the broader public about this notion of atrocities prevention, and about the notion that the United States can or should exercise leverage to end mass atrocities, so I do think that’s part of it.

And I also think that the inability of the United States, and its Western allies in particular, to exert influence in certain conflict situations certainly plays a role in that as well. But there are things that the United States can do. The fact that we can’t do everything doesn’t mean that we can’t do something. And our attitude is, where there do exist opportunities for the United States to exercise a positive influence in ongoing mass atrocity situations, that there needs to be a constituency that’s pressuring our elected officials to take those steps.

Is it possible for movements like this, like yours, to ever be counterproductive? The Kony 2012, for example, anti-atrocity movement resulted in negative outcries, even in Uganda and east Africa. Is that an isolated incident, or is this something you need to be mindful of and concerned about?

It’s absolutely something that we need to be concerned about. I mean that’s — if we talk about responsible advocacy, and if we talk about wanting our advocacy to be effective — obviously it’s extremely important to be self-critical in that way, and to really think about whether what we’re asking for could ultimately end up having negative ramifications. I think Kony 2012 is sort of the go-to example for that, and I think Kony 2012 certainly raised — not only in STAND, but in human rights movements — I think it contributed to raising the consciousness among human rights organizers and activists about the need to be self-reflective in that way. So I absolutely do think it’s possible, and I think it’s something that we would always need to be careful of.

What message does STAND want to send to students who aren’t involved, who maybe don’t think that they have time, or don’t see how what happens on the other side of the world can affect their lives?

As far as the second question, about how it affects their lives, I mean, the simple answer to that is, in a lot of cases it doesn’t. I’m not going to pretend that what’s happening in the eastern DRC or what’s happening in Syria has much of a direct impact on the life of a typical American college student. But I would also say that ours is a generation that recognizes that it’s becoming a smaller world, and that recognizes that in the past the international community has failed to respond appropriately to morally atrocious situations. And among the students that I talk to — even those who don’t think that it affects their lives, or even those who don’t feel that they necessarily have a whole lot of time to devote to anti-genocide advocacy — it’s not a difficult argument to convince students that the pattern of failed responses to mass atrocities should not be continued.

If you think that it’s a problem that 800,000 people died in Rwanda without any kind of international response, then you should be interested in our movement, even if it doesn’t directly affect your life. No matter how much time you have to give, there’s some way for you to plug into a movement, even if it’s just picking up the phone and calling your congressional office. Those things seem small, but when they’re multiplied together they can lead to the types of policy changes that we want to see. And it can ultimately lead to at least progress toward that ideal of making “never again” a reality.

Some impactful words for the youth coming up today. Thank you so much, Mickey, for joining me today, and sharing what you’re all about.

You’re very welcome. Thanks for having me.

Photo: STAND website.

Remembering to Look Forward:
Auschwitz, Argentina, and Genocide Prevention in 2013

By ALEX ZUCKER

Birkenau barbed wire

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

This post marks the Auschwitz Institute’s inaugural podcast. Jared Knoll, based in Saskatoon, Canada, speaks to Samuel Totten, a pioneer of genocide studies in the United States, a co-founding editor of the journal Genocide Studies and Prevention, and, in 2004, an investigator with the U.S. State Department’s Atrocities Documentation Project, interviewing refugees along the Chad–Sudan border to ascertain whether genocide had been perpetrated in Darfur.

 

Good day, I’m Jared Knoll, with the Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Reconciliation. Joining me is Dr. Samuel Totten, genocide scholar and professor at the University of Arkansas. Last year he and 54 other experts in genocide prevention petitioned the United States government to take action in Sudan’s Blue Nile State and South Kordofan where they beheld a humanitarian catastrophe. Last week Dr. Totten returned home from an on-the-ground fact-finding excursion to this affected area.

Thank you, Sam, for taking the time to share with us today.

Thank you for the opportunity to do so. I greatly appreciate it.

I’d like to just jump right in and ask you: What are the biggest threats facing the people there on the ground right now?

There are basically three. One: Antonov bombers are being flown overhead every single day by the government of Sudan. Those bombers frequently end up bombing areas where people congregate, such as souks (the open-air markets), schools, and other areas such as that. And a lot of people are being severely injured and killed as a result of those bombings. Secondly, there is constant fighting in the area. Right now it’s concentrated around Kadugli, the capital of the state of South Kordofan, where the Nuba Mountains are located.

So people are at risk of being killed by the ongoing fighting between the rebels and the government of Sudan as well. Third, there is the problem with food in the area. That is, there’s a lack of food. People have been unable to work their farms out of sheer fear of being killed by the bombs from the Antonovs. Also, the rainy season was shorter than usual this year, so the people did not end up producing as many crops as they usually do and so their food stores are down dramatically. So those are the three main concerns and problems facing the Nuba Mountains people today.

Is there any of those that you feel is the most urgent factor for the international community to address, or is a multifaceted approach what is needed here?

Actually all three issues are major, but I think that, one, if the international community could halt the Antonovs, that would be a real boon for the people of the Nuba Mountains. Also, right now, experts are projecting that this coming rainy season, which starts in late April/early May, could be disastrous if the international community does not get food up to the Nuba Mountains right now, while they can still traverse the roads. Once the rainy season sets in, it’s virtually impossible for any type of vehicle to get up there, and the government of Sudan has established a no-flight zone in South Kordofan, so no planes, either now or in the rainy season, will be able to fly in. So this is the time to get stores of food up there, so that the people do have food. There are individuals who are claiming that if such food is not transported up in large quantities, and I’m talking thousands of tons, there could be widespread starvation this time around.

Do you still believe that the Sudanese regime is attempting to take out those that the government suspects of supporting the liberation movement?

Oh, there’s no doubt about it, yes, they’re definitely focused on that. Now where I differ from a lot of people is this: There are a lot of individuals—scholars, activists, and others—who are calling this a case of genocide. After being on the ground and talking with people, going from village to village, speaking with rebel groups, rebel commanders, it’s not a case of genocide at this point in time. It’s a civil war between the rebel groups and the government of Sudan.

There’s no doubt in my mind that the government of Sudan is perpetrating crimes against humanity against the Nuba Mountains people, particularly in its indiscriminate bombings of them. But at the same time it’s a situation that could quickly morph into at least genocide by attrition if the food is not gotten up there. Because there’s no doubt in my mind, as well, that the government of Sudan’s bombings are preventing the people from producing the food that they need, and at the same time preventing humanitarian groups from entering the Nuba Mountains to provide aid to the people in need.

Do you still support the recommendations that you and others gave to the US government last summer? Has your last trip made you reconsider anything, or made you want to change or advocate different policies?

No, actually I pretty much stand on what we wrote last summer and what we sent to the U.S. State Department, to Princeton Lyman, who at the time was the U.S. special envoy to Sudan, and to the U.S. Atrocities Prevention Board. Everything that we addressed still stands as far as I’m concerned. I guess the only thing that I would emphasize is that there is a greater urgency to get tons of food up there, otherwise the situation, as I said, could prove disastrous.

Do you have anymore that you’d like to add, to say to the people listening, what they should do?

Yes, I do, thank you. Frequently we read about situations where bombings are taking place, but I must say that, once on the ground, one’s awareness of what that means changes radically. So number one I would say that anybody interested in the fate of the Nuba Mountains people really need to voice their concern and interest about the fate of the people as these bombings continue daily, because it is a form of terrorism, there’s no doubt about it. I saw people who absolutely refused to leave the caves of the Nuba Mountains because they feared that they were going to be killed. I heard regularly stories about children and adults who had been hit by the shrapnel and had legs sheared off, arms sheared off, even heads sheared off, and those who were not killed, many ended up bleeding to death. So it’s a horrific situation that’s happening there every single day that these people are living with.

Second, I would say it truly baffles me why during the early part of the crisis in Darfur—and I’m talking 2004, ’05, ’06—both students in this country, university students in particular, as well as activist groups forming coalitions, were so active, so vocal about what was happening in Darfur and are so silent today about what’s happening in the Nuba Mountains. It makes absolutely no sense to me, and I really do not want to believe that people gave of their time, showed avid interest in the fate of the people in the Sudan for a number of years, and then decided Well, we’ll move onto something else.

People need to realize that the crisis in Darfur continues, but this new crisis in the Nuba Mountains is something altogether different when it comes to the issue of food. People really need to step up and they need to reflect on why they were active, say, a few years ago and not today, and I would hope that a new generation of students, who maybe were in high school during the Darfur years, would follow in the footsteps of their predecessors at their particular universities and become active today and speak up on the behalf of these beleaguered people who are leading very, very difficult existences in the Nuba Mountains.

Well, Sam, I hope that your experience and the experiences of other scholars doing the same sort of work, and the sharing of that, can help all people to raise their own awareness and have some sort of positive impact on the situation.

Photo: uark.edu

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