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Establishing a “Culture of Remembrance and Non-Recurrence”:
Regional Approaches to Genocide Prevention
Genocide prevention requires a transnational commitment of states willing to collaborate and work together to recognize threats and identify means by which potential conflict can be avoided. In a similar way, reducing the risk of genocide necessitates a consistent sharing of ideas so that methods for prevention can be continually improved. One manner in which this dedication and cooperation is demonstrated is the Regional Forum on the Prevention of Genocide, co-organized by the governments of Argentina, Cambodia, Switzerland, and Tanzania. The Forum, which was first held in Argentina in 2008, has continued to meet annually since 2010 and brings together scholars, diplomats, and activists to discuss emerging ideas in the realm of genocide prevention. In addition, the journal Politorbis issued a 2009 publication on genocide prevention that addresses many of the topics covered in the Forums.
The 2013 Regional Forum took place in Phnom Penh on February 28 and March 1, 2013, and included over 20 distinguished speakers from around the world. The discussion was opened by Mr. Federico Villegas Beltrán, Director General for Human Rights, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and International Trade and Worship in Argentina; Ambassador Dr. Christoph Burgener of Switzerland; Ambassador Liberata Mulamula of Tanzania; and Deputy Prime Minister and Minister in charge of the Office of the Council of Ministers of Cambodia, His Excellency Dr. Sok An. Dr. An began by reminding the audience of the importance of genocide prevention in his own country, stating that “for Cambodia, the issue is not an abstract or theoretical one, but one that brutally and directly affected us, and still does today.” Dr. An also cited the importance of seeking justice for and remembering the victims, “to make sure such a tragedy will never recur,” emphasizing that “we regard remembrance of the past and of the victims as an essential prerequisite to non-recurrence.”
The Forum itself was comprised of five separate panels, the first of which was titled “What is genocide and how to prevent it?” During this segment, panelists discussed the definition of genocide and offered ideas on how to improve capacities to respond to early warning signs of violence. In particular, His Excellency Ouch Borith, Secretary of State, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of Cambodia, mentioned that “the narrow or shallow perception of genocide may lead to failure in preventing genocide from its budding stage,” referring to the oversimplified belief that genocide only entails the killing of individuals, when in fact the Genocide Convention enumerates five criteria for the commission of the crime. Borith also stated that there are “still a lot of controversies and difficulties in quantifying the scope of violence to be labeled as genocide,” and cited the need for greater preventive capacity, particularly at the national level in regards to education, and social and religious institutions.
This panel also featured Adama Dieng, United Nations Special Adviser for the Prevention of Genocide, and Alex Bellamy, Professor of International Security at Griffith Asia Institute in Australia. Dieng reiterated the importance of understanding the “root causes and dynamics” of genocide, and highlighted the important role that civil society has begun to play in making prevention and the concept of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) stronger. Bellamy also outlined six specific points that would assist East Asia in its efforts to prevent genocide, including the development of what he calls an “atrocity prevention lens,” which “focuses on injecting atrocity prevention considerations into existing policies, programs, and capabilities and, when necessary, convening or coordinating these assets for prevention purposes,” as well as the creation of regional capacity for early warning and assessment through a collaborative effort between the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Secretariat, the ASEAN Institute of Peace and Reconciliation, and other relevant organizations.
The second panel, “Asian Experience and Visions for the Future,” included His Excellency Khuon Sudary, Second Vice-President of the National Assembly of Cambodia, and The Honorable Gareth Evans, Chancellor of Australian National University and Co-Chair of the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect. Sudary emphasized the importance of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) in seeking justice for the victims of the genocide. He also underscored the role of education, particularly in regards to learning about the Khmer Rouge, noting that “young people need to grasp the value of human rights and learn to use them effectively in order to prevent genocide in the future.”
Evans, who was a primary contributor in the creation of R2P at the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS) in 2001, discussed the development of a Brazilian proposal called Responsibility While Protecting (RWP). This supplemental protocol to R2P is comprised of “two key elements: a set of agreed criteria to be taken into account before the UNSC mandates any use of force…and a monitoring-and-review mechanism to ensure that the scope and limits of such mandates continue to be debated by the Council during the implementation phase.” Evans also reiterated the imperativeness of developing “effective capability to initiate action and mobilize political will,” by creating “focal points” that have “direct access to high-level decision makers,” as well as enhancing “broad-based civilian response capabilities” and “[ensuring] that effective military capability is available to meet needs as they arise.”
Later in the evening, the third panel, titled “Africa, Latin America and Europe – Experiences, Lessons Learned and Ways Forward,” was held. Nathan Byamukama, Program Officer of the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) Committee on the Prevention of Genocide, spoke first. He discussed some of the responsibilities of the ICGLR, including collecting and analyzing information to identify situations that might develop into genocide, recommending measures to safeguard victims, monitoring Disarmament, Demobilization, Repatriation, Reintegration and Resettlement (DDRRR) programs, and cooperating with civil society. Byamukama also cited several challenges that the ICGLR faces, like the politicization of the Committee and a funding deficit, but noted that it will continue to garner support from member states so as to strengthen its initiatives.
Byamukama was followed by Daniel Feierstein, Director of the Centre for Genocide Studies in Argentina. First, Feierstein turned the concept of prevention on its head, stating, “I would suggest to change the perspective from what the super-powers should do to prevent genocide (the interventionist approach) to what they should not do: how to establish a system of controls to prevent such powers from acting in ways that increase the possibility of genocidal events through direct intervention, arms trade, support for destabilization or coups d’état, and so on.” Secondly, he noted the important role of regional mechanisms in preventing genocide, providing the example of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), which is comprised of 12 Latin American nations and is charged with helping countries in the region mitigate conflicts. Since its inception in 2008, UNASUR has assisted in Bolivia, Honduras, and Ecuador, as well as in the conflict between Colombia and Venezuela in 2010.
The second day of the conference opened with the fourth panel, “Preventing Genocide: Role and Responsibilities of State and International Actors and Ways Forward,” which featured David Scheffer, UN Secretary General Special Expert on United Nations Assistance to the Khmer Rouge Trials. Scheffer emphasized the role of the ECCC as a deterrence mechanism, noting that it “is critical to breaking the cycles of impunity and putting down at least a caution sign for political and military leaders who might contemplate human rights abuses or atrocity crimes to achieve political and strategic aims.”
In the fifth and final panel, “Preventing Genocide: Role and Responsibilities of Non-State Actors and Ways Forward,” Youk Chhang, Executive Director of the Documentation Centre of Cambodia (DC-Cam), discussed the role of civil society in the prevention of genocide. He explained the work of DC-Cam, which seeks “to establish a permanent presence and to play a leading role in this transformative effort” of policy change in post-conflict states. Chhang also stated that DC-Cam “has begun to build a permanent center to expand our work and ensure a long-term commitment to human rights and genocide prevention in Cambodia,” an initiative that centers on the belief that “genocide education is a key to liberating the victims of Khmer Rouge terror and transforming them into leaders in the global quest for human rights and dignity.” To increase genocide awareness, as well as the scope of the institution’s work, DC-Cam will also “promote memory and justice” by “[digitizing its] extensive archives and [making] them available to viewers at home and overseas.”
Given the variety of topics covered, as well as the global character of the dozens of panelists and speakers that offered remarks during the conference, the Regional Forum on the Prevention of Genocide exemplifies a collaborative approach to educating on the past so as to avoid the commission of mass atrocities in the future. By meeting on an annual basis, the four member states that comprise the Forum also reaffirm their commitment to what many speakers emphasized in their presentations – that is, the desire to create “a culture of remembrance and non-recurrence” that recognizes the importance of preventing genocide everywhere.
AIPR Communications Intern Christopher Kousouros files this report from a panel discussion on The Media in Srebrenica.
On Monday a panel discussion was held in New York on the media’s role in uncovering the 1995 Srebrenica genocide and, given the upsurge of citizen journalism, the evolution of the media’s structure and role in preventing future atrocities.
The discussion, organized by the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, featured the following speakers: Laura Silber, an investigative journalist who interviewed Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic soon after the genocide took place; Michael Dobbs, who wrote the first in-depth article about Srebrenica; Emma Daly, communications director at Human Rights Watch, who was a journalist covering the Bosnian war at the time of the genocide; and David Rohde, the journalist who exposed the mass graves outside Srebrenica, leading to the uncovering of the genocide that took place.
Srebrenica proved indicative of the abilities and limitations of investigative journalism in the ’90s, before the advent of the citizen journalism that has so critically reshaped the media’s role today. In the early ’90s, there were journalists from all over the world in Bosnia. In fact, Michael Dobbs claimed that the media played a decisive role in creating the six safe areas, Srebrenica among them, in 1993. Professional media coverage was one of the most effective weapons Bosnians had to get the international community involved.
However, by July 1995, Srebrenica had been cut off to all journalists. Consequently, it was only when news started trickling out of the city, by way of escaped Muslim men arriving in Tuzla, that thanks to investigative reporting by people like David Rohde, the genocide was uncovered. In other words, investigative journalism at the time was capable only of exposing the genocide after the fact, but since no reporters were allowed into the city, as is usually the case in areas under threat of genocide, no one was able to get word out in time to prevent it. Dobbs was the first to write an in-depth report on the genocide, but it came in October, three months later.
Times have changed. With the advent of citizen journalism, on-the-ground coverage of events in places inaccessible to professional journalists is available virtually everywhere, whether via cell phones or social media such as Facebook and Twitter. According to Dobbs, if this kind of technology had been available in 1995, it would have been much harder to cover up and carry out the genocide in Srebrenica. However, these new technologies also present a problem, in that it is sometimes near impossible to confirm the stream of information pouring out of places like Syria and Sri Lanka, where professional journalism has been effectively eliminated.
The media, however, hardly bear all the responsibility for the international community’s failure to prevent genocide in Srebrenica. Ivan Barbalić, a representative of the Permanent Mission of Bosnia and Herzegovina to the United Nations, was present at the panel discussion and said enough evidence was in fact available. He said that while technologies like cell phone video recordings and Facebook weren’t available in 1995, media institutions like Headline News and CNN were providing enough real-time coverage in Bosnia for decisionmakers to conclude that something was going to happen in Srebrenica. He believes that the writing was on the wall, and that the failure to act belongs to the international community as a whole. He points specifically to the lack of political will in institutions such as the UN.
Nevertheless, Barbalić also pointed out the decisive role that citizen journalism has played in the Arab Spring, and said that had this information been available in 1995, perhaps the genocide could have been prevented. In discussing the Libya intervention, he said, “When Libya was opening up, the information coming from the media was very important to create a complete picture: ‘If we don’t do something, there will be major bloodshed in Benghazi.’ ” The coverage provided by Libyan citizens effectively made it impossible for the international community not to intervene in Libya, but in places like Syria and Sri Lanka, where there is a virtual blackout of professional media coverage, the ability to verify information that might drive the international community to act is largely absent.
Looking towards the future, all of the panel speakers agreed that professional journalism still holds an important role in preventing and exposing mass atrocities. They believe that new technologies and citizen journalism can be a very powerful resource, but one that needs to serve a complimentary role with the professional media, which are charged with providing verifiable facts that can influence international action. Without reliable information from places like Syria, Sri Lanka, and Myanmar, the atrocities being committed will not be brought to light, let alone prevented from happening in the first place.
In Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s 2009 Report Implementing the Responsibility to Protect, he outlines the three pillars of the principle:
- The enduring responsibility of the State to protect its populations, whether nationals or not, from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity, and from their incitement.
- The commitment of the international community to assist States in meeting those obligations.
- The responsibility of Member States to respond collectively in a timely and decisive manner when a State is manifestly failing to provide such protection.
In response to the common misunderstanding of the third pillar as use of force, the International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect has created a new educational document detailing the third pillar’s range of measures and key actors.
And in furtherance of international commitment to the principle, the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect this week wrote an open letter to the United Nations member states, urging them to prioritize setting goals for advancing R2P over the next year. Former diplomats and UN officials wrote how this year alone, lives were saved in Guinea, Côte d’Ivoire, and Libya through international efforts to uphold R2P. Specifically, they called on member states to:
- Appoint a senior government official as a national focal point for R2P.
- Encourage all relevant UN agencies and departments to incorporate an R2P perspective into their activities.
- Use the tools available to the General Assembly to uphold R2P and take preventive and protective action.
- Work together to develop additional goals and benchmarks for advancing R2P.
Addressing the opening of the General Assembly this week, Estonian president Toomas Hendrik Ilves (pictured above) spoke of the importance of international law, the International Criminal Court, and upholding the rule of law. He stressed the importance of developing common practices and the capacity to actually implement R2P.
On September 16 the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect released a report in its Occasional Paper Series titled “Prioritizing Protection from Mass Atrocities: Lessons from Burundi.”
The report details events in Burundi during the civil war of 1995–2005, and analyzes and critiques the measures taken by the international community in response to human rights abuses committed against civilians, in an effort to identify the lessons that can be gleaned with regard to the Responsibility to Protect doctrine. The report’s authors—Gregory Mthembu-Salter, Elana Berger, and Naomi Kikoler—conclude that these measures “ultimately brought stability to Burundi, thus leading to an end to atrocities, [but] for many years they failed to protect Burundians from the daily threats of genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and ethnic cleansing.” (Estimates of the number of people killed in Burundi’s civil war range from 200,000 to 300,000.)
The report describes the measures taken in Burundi as a direct response to the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, building on the situational and historical commonalities, as well as the ways in which the international community departed from previous actions, or inaction, in Rwanda. The three major areas of response are 1) mediation efforts, 2) the use of force, and 3) the application of economic sanctions, all of which were attempted by both regional and global organizations.
The report documents the mediation efforts of Tanzanian president Julius Nyerere, South African president Nelson Mandela, and deputy South African president Jacob Zuma. It attributes Nyerere’s efforts with ultimately bringing the involved parties to the negotiating table, but faults him for failing to include the CNDD-FDD (the military wing of the CNDD) and the FNL (the military wing of the Palipehutu); both were Hutu rebel groups engaged in combat with the Tutsi-run Burundian army, the FAB. These exclusions resulted in continued atrocities throughout the onset of mediation and the negotiation process.
The authors credit Nelson Mandela with the signing of the Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreement in 2000. This agreement established a transitional government, restructured the military to a 50/50 representation of Hutus and Tutsis, and contained a provision for the prevention of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. Once again, however, the CNDD-FDD and the FNL were excluded from the negotiation, and both groups intensified their attacks on civilians after the treaty, causing more violent reprisals by the Tutsi FAB.
Jacob Zuma successfully brokered a ceasefire with the CNDD-FDD in December 2002, which resulted in its full integration into the Burundian military in late 2003, which brought about a marked decrease in atrocities against the population. In 2006 Zuma reached an agreement with the FNL that fully demobilized the last rebel militia, which was incorporated into the military in 2009.
The authors of the report believe the impact of mediation efforts was ultimately positive, successfully ending the war and bringing a stop to atrocities on both sides. On the other hand they note that, “The efforts were premised on the belief that a negotiated political solution would automatically lead to a cessation in violence and atrocities,” arguing that mediators instead should have addressed the problem of atrocities explicitly. They also say the exclusion of the two largest militias resulted in continued atrocities throughout the mediation and negotiation process.
Use of Force
The use of force was threatened but never employed during Burundi’s civil war. In fact the authors of the report claim that in many ways this exacerbated the situation, since there was no real commitment to using force, and regional and international troops on the ground had neither the manpower nor the mandate to protect civilians.
According to the authors, the United Nations’ threat of force in 1996 (see UNSC 1049) was undermined by the resistance of important countries like the United States and France, and thus actually had a negative effect: “The resolution did nothing to provide protection to Burundi’s population and instead, by threatening the use of force without being prepared to follow through . . . the Council created a moral hazard and likely slowed the progress of Nyerere’s peace process.”
A South African force deployed in 2001 was successful in its protection of politicians returning to form the transitional government established by the Arusha agreement, but did nothing to prevent atrocities against civilians. A competent peacekeeping force with a Chapter VII mandate was not established until late 2004. The report concludes, “The deployment of foreign peacekeepers to Burundi contributed to the development of long-term peace and security but did not protect civilians from immediate threats of atrocities.”
Sanctions were a tactic employed by regional heads of state in Burundi early on. Yet a 1996 embargo on Burundian goods only resulted in the establishment of a black market by military officials, and since it effectively ended all foreign investment, it exacerbated poverty. The European Union and the UN froze all emergency aid to the country, but failed to enact sanctions of their own or to effectively support those who did. Without effective international support the sanctions had mixed effects, becoming “increasingly lackadaisical” until they were lifted in 1999.
The authors of the report state that this case demonstrates that regionally imposed sanctions on a possibly genocidal government are effective only if well enforced and the creation of a black market is blocked. Sanctions are employed in the hope that “suffering civilians will blame their government for their worsening hardship, placing popular domestic pressure on government actors to comply with international demands.” But this requires a strong political force that can provide direction to the people’s discontent, which did not consistently exist in Burundi, leaving the population to suffer without the reward of change.
In conclusion the authors note that “the incidence of war crimes and crimes against humanity has greatly declined and . . . the threat of genocide has subsided—in part due to continuous regional and international engagement in Burundi.” In retrospect, however, “A comprehensive peace agreement may have been reached more quickly and more lives could possibly have been saved . . . had states more strongly focused their efforts on protecting populations, in addition to their emphasis on finding a political solution to the crisis.”