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In this edition of the Auschwitz Institute podcast, Jared Knoll speaks with Jurgen Brauer and Charles Anderton about the role of economic factors in genocide and mass atrocities. Both of them have been instructors at the Auschwitz Institute’s Raphael Lemkin Seminar for Genocide Prevention. We spoke just two weeks before a panel at the World Bank on how to apply a mass atrocity prevention lens to economic development policy, co-organized and moderated by the Auschwitz Institute.

 

Welcome, I’m Jared Knoll with the Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Reconciliation. Today we’re looking at an often-ignored element of genocide prevention: economics. Joining me to discuss this complex subject are Jurgen Brauer and Charles Anderton, two professors hoping to produce a handbook on the economics of genocide and mass killing. Both prolific authors, they work out of Georgia Regents University and Holy Cross College in Massachusetts, respectively, and have served as instructors for the Auschwitz Institute. Charles, Jurgen: Thanks for joining us today.

JB: Yes, thank you very much for the invitation. This is Jurgen Brauer. I appreciate the opportunity to talk about this.

CA: Jared, thank you very much for contacting us. We’re delighted to have the opportunity to share some thoughts.

Would you like to start by telling us a little about how you think we need to approach the ways economics and mass killing play into one another?

CA: Jurgen and I have been kind of going back and forth on what we see as critical interdependencies between genocide and mass killing, and economics. So we’ve highlighted several areas where they intersect, and one of those is that genocides and mass killings have huge economic consequences. A second way that they go together is that economic conditions, poverty and other types of economic conditions, are potentially risk factors for genocide and mass killing, and might affect the severity as well.

We also have seen cases, certainly the Holocaust and other cases, where there’s a kind of business organization to the genocide. They’re very systematic and they require leadership and logistics and coordination and hiring people to do certain terrible tasks that are involved. There’s a kind of business of genocide that needs to be better understood. And of course there’s looting that goes on in many genocides and mass killings, and that’s a form of wealth appropriation and a loss of wealth to the victims, and obviously security is undermined, and economists see security as a very fundamental service that every society should provide.

I think the last one that we thought about is this idea of genocides and mass killing being choices that people actually are choosing, are in some sense weighing costs and benefits when they’re thinking about perpetrating such things, and economics is a social science of people making choices. So those are the ways that we see the genocides and mass killings and economics being interdependent.

JB: What we would like to add, as we continue to think about the topic, is how one may use economics to generate insights into the prevention of genocide and mass killing. There’s an increasing amount of work done, several Nobel Prizes in fact have been awarded to think about how does one design a society, how does one design structures within which incentives for behavior are guided or changed to a beneficial social outcome, so that we avoid that which we do not want to have and foster that which we do want to have.

So do you perceive an omission or a gap in the literature and body of work in the economics of genocide and mass killing?

CA: There’s a need for multidisciplinary perspectives. We’re hoping to see economics step up and professional economists take more of a role in understanding genocides and mass killings. We think that the social psychologists, the historians, the sociologists, and the political scientists have been working really hard in this field for decades, but we economists have not really contributed what our share should be, in a sense.

Why do you think economic issues haven’t been tackled as much in academia, awareness campaigns and other efforts, compared to aspects of mass killing like social ideology, ethnic conflict, things like that?

JB: Well, I believe that part of it has to do with the public image of economics. Economics is about money, economics is about financial markets, economics is about the value of your home, economics is about how much money you get from your boss. But in fact the discipline of economics, I would say, money is 5 percent of what we do and the other 95 percent is really interesting stuff that the public doesn’t hear about. People ordinarily don’t think of economics as contributing to larger social issues beyond the finances of a household or a firm, or maybe the government. So I think it’s in part a perceptual issue. Economists over the years have made great contributions, in environmental economics, public policy, the evaluation of cost-benefit of, let’s say, publicly funded research and those sorts of things.

CA: The textbooks in economics focus on production and exchange and consumption, and of course this is what they should focus on. But of course in many parts of the world there can be serious degrees of insecurity and there can be what Paul Collier, an economist, has characterized as economic development in reverse. I think a lot of our economic textbooks look at economic progress and economic growth in societies where institutions are pretty strong and stable, but there of course are many parts of the world that have really serious forms of insecurity, and the standard textbook approaches don’t really fit well in those areas, and so I think economists have to step up and do more in thinking about issues of war and peace and insecurity. I think another issue here is that economics perhaps is the most quantitative of the social sciences. It can be very mathematical, very statistical-oriented, and that can present some obstacles in the sense of trying to communicate to a broader audience.

Is it just simpler to focus on things like ancient hatreds, in terms of public attention, instead of economic realities? Or do you think it’s also harder emotionally for people to look at cases as terrible as genocide through cold, but also I think very relatable financial terms? Does that relatability actually make it harder?

CA: You know, it’s very interesting. Right after the end of the Cold War there was a kind of ramp-up in the number of civil wars that were out there, and a lot of the media portrayal of these civil wars was that they were driven by ethnic animosities or some ancient animosities that now resurfaced at the end of the Cold War, and there probably were valuable insights into looking at it that way, but some economists also looked at problems of underdevelopment, of contests over resources within countries, and these other economic factors became important. It did become a kind of cold, cost-benefit analysis approach to looking at issues of underdevelopment and resource contestation, but there was some empirical weight that these economic factors mattered. So I think in a similar way we’ve got to try to bring economics to bear in thinking about cost and benefit issues regarding genocide and mass killing.

The World Bank and IMF, coming up, are going to be putting on a working group for developing a genocide prevention lens to incorporate into their development project criteria. How optimistic are you that efforts like these and the future of turning public attention have of getting to a point where addressing mass atrocities and genocides through that economic lens?

JB: I think the degree of optimism may depend on the expected time frame. Sometimes when these sorts of things are put in place in an institution and there’s a press communication made, people may have unrealistic expectations that things will be better in two years or five years, and in fact you’re just setting in motion a process, and that process may take 10 or 15 or 20 years to work out. It’s probably unrealistic, not optimistic, to say something will happen within a year or two, but it may be much more realistic and optimistic to say that over a longer time period, the process is put in place and measures are being taken, observations are made, discussions are held, and that aid and assistance ultimately will be tied through criteria that are presumably yet to be developed. So I think if you take a less urgent, urgent as the matter is, but a less urgent perspective, then perhaps in 10 years’ time we will have the result that we want.  

Well, I hope you keep making strides toward making the economic aspects of mass killing and genocide an important part of the discussion. Thank you so much, Charles, Jurgen, for speaking with me today.

CA: Thank you.

JB: Thank you very much.

Photos: Courtesy Charles Anderton and Jurgen Brauer

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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

Part 7 in a series by Marissa Goldfaden as she works her way through “Introduction to minority rights, regional human rights mechanisms, and minority rights advocacy,” a new online course offered to the public free of charge by Minority Rights Group International. The course’s stated objectives are to introduce concepts of minority rights and discrimination, develop awareness and understanding of international and regional mechanisms for minority rights, and improve practical skills in lobbying and advocacy.

By MARISSA GOLDFADEN

European human rights mechanisms

The Council of Europe, made up of 47 member states, was founded in 1949 with the aim of achieving greater unity in Europe. It passes conventions and charters that recommend actions that its members should take. In some important areas, principally human rights, the Council has legal jurisdiction.

The Council has drafted and ratified a number of important instruments for the protection of human rights and minority rights:

The Council is responsible for the institutions and monitoring committees that work to ensure state compliance with the following legal instruments:

Institution/Committee Role
European Court of Human Rights Rules on individual or state applications alleging violations of the rights set out in the European Convention on Human Rights. It is the highest European court for human rights and fundamental freedoms (see section 5).
European Committee of Social Rights Judges whether states conform, in law and in practice, with the provisions of the European Social Charter.
Advisory Committee on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities Evaluates the implementation of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities. The role of the Committee is to examine state reports on minorities as well as other information, and use that information to monitor the performance of state parties.
Committee of Experts of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages Monitors the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. The Committee evaluates how the Charter is applied by a state party, and, where necessary, makes recommendations for improvements in its legislation, policy and practice.

All Council of Europe member states are party to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), and new members are expected to ratify the Convention at the earliest opportunity.

The ECHR sets out the following fundamental rights and freedoms:

  • right to life
  • prohibition of torture
  • prohibition of slavery and forced labor
  • right to liberty and security
  • right to a fair trial
  • no punishment without law
  • right to respect for private and family life
  • freedom of thought, conscience and religion
  • freedom of expression
  • freedom of assembly and association
  • right to marry
  • right to an effective remedy
  • prohibition of discrimination

The Convention established the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) to ensure its observance. The Court deals with cases brought by individuals against states, as well as inter-state cases. All alleged violations of human rights are referred directly to the Court. The parties to a case must abide by the judgments of the Court and take all necessary measures to comply with them.

The European Social Charter guarantees economic and social rights, such as those pertaining to housing, health, education, employment, legal and social protection, free movement of persons and non-discrimination. The following rights are given particular weight within the Charter document:

  • right to work
  • right to organize
  • right to bargain collectively
  • right to social security
  • right to social and medical assistance
  • right to the social, legal and economic protection of the family
  • right to protection and assistance for migrant workers and their families

The Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities is a legally binding instrument that aims to protect the existence of national minorities within the territories of the parties. It seeks to promote the full and effective equality of national minorities by creating conditions that enable them to preserve and develop their culture and to retain their identity.

The Convention sets out principles relating to national minorities in public life, such as:

  • freedom of peaceful assembly
  • freedom of association
  • freedom of expression
  • freedom of thought, conscience and religion
  • access to the media

as well as in the range of freedoms relating to language and education. MRG notes that Turkey and France have not signed up to the Convention.

The European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages aims to protect and promote the regional or minority languages of Europe. It has 24 signatories. It was adopted to maintain and develop Europe’s cultural traditions and sets out the principles of a) respect for the geographical area of each language and b) the need for promotion, facilitation and/or encouragement of the use of regional or minority languages in speech and writing and in public and private life. The Charter also sets out a number of specific measures to promote the use of regional or minority languages in the fields of education, justice, administrative authorities and public services, media, cultural activities and facilities, economic and social activities, and trans-frontier exchanges.

The ECHR contains one specific reference to minorities in Article 14, which reads:

“The enjoyment of the rights and freedoms set forth in this Convention shall be secured without discrimination on any ground such as sex, race, color, language, religion, political or other option, national or social origin, association with a national minority, property, birth or other status.”

Article 14 is subject to an ‘ambit requirement,’ meaning that the circumstances in which it can be applied are limited to the scope of ‘the rights and freedoms set forth in this Convention.’ Therefore, the Article can only be invoked if the situation comes under another Convention right. Protocol 12 to the ECHR extends the guarantee of non-discrimination in Article 14 to ‘any right set forth by law.’

Article 1 of Protocol 12 provides that:

(1) The enjoyment of any right set forth by law shall be secured without discrimination on any ground such as sex, race, color, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, association with a national minority, property, birth or other status (emphasis added)

(2) No one shall be discriminated against by any public authority on any ground such as those mentioned in paragraph 1.

The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) was set up in 1973 with the aim of improving relations between Eastern and Western Europe. Today, it has 56 participating states and is concerned with conflict prevention, crisis management, and post-conflict rehabilitation. The post of the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities is designed to identify and seek early resolution of ethnic tensions that might endanger peace, stability, or friendly relations between OSCE participating states. In formulating advice and recommendations, the High Commissioner uses international human rights standards as a basis. All OSCE participating states are also bound by the political commitments related to the protection and promotion of minority rights set out in the 1990 Document of the Copenhagen Meeting of the Conference for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

The Warsaw-based Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) is the specialized institution of the OSCE dealing with elections, human rights, and democratization. Of particular interest is its work on Roma and Sinti issues to promote the full integration of Roma and Sinti groups into the societies in which they live.

Image: civitas.org.uk

Part 6 in a series by Marissa Goldfaden as she works her way through “Introduction to minority rights, regional human rights mechanisms, and minority rights advocacy,” a new online course offered to the public free of charge by Minority Rights Group International. The course’s stated objectives are to introduce concepts of minority rights and discrimination, develop awareness and understanding of international and regional mechanisms for minority rights, and improve practical skills in lobbying and advocacy.

By MARISSA GOLDFADEN

Asian human rights mechanisms

The workings of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)

Founded in 1967, ASEAN is currently comprised of Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. Timor Leste has observer status. The purpose of ASEAN is to boost economic growth, social progress and cultural development in the region; and promote regional peace and stability through respect for justice and the rule of law, and adherence to the principles of the United Nations Charter. In 2007, ASEAN adopted its own charter.

Decision-making within ASEAN

Secretariat Implements policy decisions; draws up ‘plans of action’ in collaboration with Senior Officials
Ministerial meetings Amend and endorse plans of action drawn up by the Secretariat
ASEAN Summit The highest decision-making body: gives final approval to plans of action

 

In terms of rights, ASEAN Vision 2020 seeks to create an ASEAN Community by 2020 where “all people enjoy equitable access regardless of gender, race, religion, language or social and cultural background; where civil society is empowered and gives special attention to the disadvantaged, disabled and marginalized; where social justice and the rule of law reign.”

The ASEAN Community is composed of three pillars of cooperation:

  1. ASEAN Political-Security Community (APSC)
  2. ASEAN Economic Community (AEC)
  3. ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community (ASCC)

Asia-Pacific does not have a regional system of treaties, courts, commissions or other institutions to protect and promote human rights. As such, the organization has recently established the following three relevant mechanisms:

  • ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR)
    • Though it does not explicitly mention minorities, principle 2.2 of the AICHR’s Terms of Reference underlines respect for non-discrimination.
  • ASEAN Commission on the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Women and Children (ACWC)
  • Committee on the Implementation of the ASEAN Declaration on the Promotion and Protection of Migrant Workers (ACMW)

All ASEAN member states have ratified the UN Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).

ASEAN has also adopted its own declarations relating to women:

  1. Declaration on the Advancement of Women in ASEAN (1988)
  2. Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women in the ASEAN Region (2004) 
  3. ASEAN Declaration Against Trafficking in Persons Particularly Women and Children (2004)

Established in 1985, the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC)’s main goal is to jointly promote social and economic development in Asia. Its current member countries are Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, and Afghanistan.

Created in January 2004, the Technical Committee on Women, Youth and Children is concerned with issues such as the trafficking of women and children within and between countries in the region; increasing women’s participation in politics; and women’s health and education. SAARC adopted a regional Convention on Combating the Crime of Trafficking in Women and Children for Prostitution in January 2002.

Established in 2004, the SAARC Social Charter “incorporates a broad range of goals in areas such as poverty eradication, population stabilization, women’s empowerment, promotion of health and nutrition, and child protection. It also requires member states to formulate a National Plan of Action, or modify any existing one, to implement the provisions of the Charter. It calls on states to enact any plan through a transparent and broad-based participatory process.”

The SAARC Charter does not list promotion of human rights as a goal. SAARC has not adopted any human rights convention or charter. It has not agreed to create any regional institution or mechanism to monitor adherence to, and implementation of, the various UN human rights conventions already signed by its member countries.

Image: therealsingapore.com

The situation of the Rohingya people in Burma remains dire. Even as President Thein Sein has launched political and economic reforms to move the country away from its authoritarian past, and even as Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma’s champion of human rights, has been freed from house arrest and is now in the middle of an historic, emotional, and heavily publicized visit to the United States, there is still a threat of genocide for the Rohingya. 

With this in mind, Christine Lim traveled to the campus of Columbia University on Sept. 14 for a discussion titled “Burma in Transition: Minorities, Human Rights, and Democratic Process.” Speakers for the event were Amartya Sen, 1998 Nobel Prize laureate in Economics; Wakar Uddin, director general of the Arakan Rohingya Union; T. Kumar, director of international advocacy for Amnesty International USA; and Elaine Pearson, deputy director of the Asia Division at Human Rights Watch. 

By CHRISTINE LIM

Opening the event was Wakar Uddin of the Arakan Rohingya Union and the Burmese Rohingya Association of North America. His graphic, eye-opening slideshow relayed the horrific facts of everyday life for the 800,000 Rohingya Muslims who live in Burma as a stateless minority with virtually no rights, having been stripped of their citizenship in 1982.

Even those who have lived in the country for generations are denied citizenship and birth certificates, Uddin said. They need permission from the state to reproduce at more than the replacement rate, marry, or travel outside their villages. Illiteracy is incredibly high among Rohingya, and fewer than 1 percent of them graduate from high school. Uddin described land confiscation, arbitrary arrests, and forced labor as rampant, and incidents of armed child soldiers waiting outside mosques to ambush attendees. He also said that the police routinely engaged in a practice officially known as “population reduction monitoring,” illustrating the sinister-sounding policy with a photograph of an old man shot to death.

Uddin declared that the Burmese government’s “massive ethnic cleansing” of the Rohingya, carried out with the help of the military, amounted to genocide and that full citizenship for the Rohingya was the only viable long-term solution. To this end, Uddin called on the audience to pressure the international community not only to supply aid but also to press Rangoon to repeal the 1982 citizenship law. He also urged the current Burmese government to grant the right to return to the estimated 1.5 million Rohingya who have fled to neighboring countries.

Elaine Pearson of Human Rights Watch said she recently visited Burma and did see some unexpectedly good changes in limited areas such as Rangoon, but that in Arakan the situation had only gotten worse. She expressed hope that Aung San Suu Kyi would take a more definite stand on the Rohingya issue during her tour of the United States.

Although Suu Kyi has shown concern over other Burmese social issues, such as the continued recruitment of child soldiers and prostitutes, she has remained silent regarding the treatment of the Rohingya minority in Burma. When asked during her June visit to Oslo, where she received the Nobel Peace Prize she was awarded in 1991, whether she thought Rohingyas should be considered citizens, Suu Kyi replied, “I do not know.”

Pearson pointed out that President Thein Sein and the National League for Democracy, Suu Kyi’s party, agreed on the confinement of Rohingyas in refugee camps and warned listeners not to be misled by the romantic idea of “cease-fire capitalism,” borne of the highly publicized peace agreements, signed but not acted upon, between Rangoon and military forces representing ethnic minorities. She said it was dangerous that civil society had been left out of discussions about the distribution of limited natural resources, since ethnic minorities were likely to lose out as a result. Pearson also stated that military reform would be necessary for positive steps toward democracy and human rights, because the military was currently “not on board” with those goals.

T. Kumar, of Amnesty International USA, spoke in greater detail about the difficulties of attending school, finding a job (as opposed to forced labor), or seeking medical care without citizenship and the right to travel freely.

Amartya Sen, the best-known of the speakers, urged listeners to keep a sense of balance with regard to the plight of the Rohingya, to avoid being either too discouraged or complacent about acting to improve matters where possible. He characterized the issue as a modern problem not only of human rights but of citizenship, saying what was necessary was a non-sectarian approach that truly sought to understand the tensions between ethnicities, as the problem was a complex one, stretching across religious, ethnic, and linguistic boundaries, and could not be solved by what he called a kind of wishy-washy “secularism” that insists upon giving the same five minutes of recitation from various holy texts before every communal gathering.

Coda

In a speech at the Asia Society on Sept. 18 in Washington, DC, Suu Kyi touched upon the conflict in Rakhine state, though she limited her discussion to abstract principles rather than concrete policies, such as the granting of citizenship, framing them as the responsibility of the government, as opposed to that of her party, the NLD:

 

“The government has formed a commission to look into the situation in the Rakhine. The NLD [. . .] want to give the government all the opportunities it needs to diffuse the situation there and to bring about a peaceful settlement. We do not want to criticize the government just for the sake of making political capital. We want to help the government, in any way possible, to bring about peace and harmony in the Rakhine state. Whatever help is asked from us, we are prepared to give—if it is within our ability to do so. But it is not for us—we are not in a position to decide what we do and how we operate—because we are not the government. I think this has to be understood by those who wish the NLD to do more. What we can do is to declare our principles and our preparedness to help in every way we can. [. . .] But I am not going to talk about the Rakhine issue in greater detail now.”

Photo: Salem-news.com

Although minority rights are not the only protection necessary to prevent genocide, where minority rights are lacking or altogether absent, the likelihood of genocide—or any other type of violent conflict involving minorities—is that much greater. As Minority Rights Group International (MRG) wrote in a 2004 briefing paper, titled “Genocide and Minorities: Preventing the Preventable,”

“The UN Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities captures the spirit of the Genocide Convention in that it emphasizes that the right of national, ethnic, linguistic and religious groups to physically exist is not enough: states have a duty to protect the existence and identity of such groups (see Article 1 [1] of the UN Declaration on Minorities). Governments must respect and support the rights of minorities to use their own languages, enjoy their cultures, profess and practise their religions, and participate effectively in public life.”

The authors of the paper also note:

“Sustainable prevention requires the development of ways for groups to at least peacefully coexist, and in time to integrate on the basis of shared values and interest. This implies the entrenchment of the rule of law based on the full and equal respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities, and governance for the good of the whole population. The principles of non-discrimination and effective participation in public life both protect minority groups and ensure that their voices are heard in decision-making.”

With that in mind, this post marks the first in a series by Marissa Goldfaden as she works her way through a new online course offered to the public free of charge by MRG, “Introduction to minority rights, regional human rights mechanisms, and minority rights advocacy.” The course’s stated objectives are to introduce concepts of minority rights and discrimination, develop awareness and understanding of international and regional mechanisms for minority rights, and improve practical skills in lobbying and advocacy.

By MARISSA GOLDFADEN

The first course topic is basic concepts in human rights and minority rights. The first question posed is, Who are minorities?  MRG uses the following working definition: The term minorities refers to ethnic, national, religious, linguistic or cultural groups who are smaller in number than the rest of the population and may wish to maintain and develop their identity. In differentiating between minorities and indigenous peoples, MRG provides another definition: Indigenous peoples are distinct ethnic communities who are the first inhabitants of a geographical region, and whose identities and cultures are inextricably linked to the land on which they live and the natural resources on which they depend.

The next section poses the query, What are human rights and minority rights? Human rights are freedoms and entitlements that all human beings have because they are human. They are to be enjoyed without distinction of any kind, such as race, color, sex, language, religion, political and other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. This means they are universal. There are different categories of human rights, all of which have equal importance:

  • Civil and Political: These rights protect people’s status and participation in the public sphere, e.g., the right to be free from torture, the right to a fair trial, the right to freedom of opinion and expression.
  • Economic, Social and Cultural: These rights concern material and social welfare, e.g., the right to education, the right to health, the right to work and fair conditions of work.

The three main elements of minority rights are non-discriminationprotection of identity, and effective participation. There are two types of discrimination: direct and indirect. Direct discrimination is less favorable or detrimental treatment accorded to an individual or group of individuals due to their possession of one or more specific characteristics (for example, ethnic group, religion, language or sex). Indirect discrimination is when a practice, rule, requirement or condition outwardly appears to be neutral but it impacts negatively on a particular group in a disproportionate way. Protection of the distinct identity of a minority group in a particular country means that governments must guarantee the physical existence of that group. This means protection from genocide, forced expulsion or ethnic cleansing, and forced assimilation into the dominant community.

The right to participation for minorities includes three main elements:

  1. Participation in decision-making on issues that affect the minority
    This principle is especially important. Minorities should be involved at all stages of the decision-making process and at all levels – local, regional, and national.
  2. Participation in all aspects of public life
    It is essential for minorities to be able to contribute to the wider society and effectively participate in decision-making processes as members of the majority do, for example, through standing for elections.
  3. Participation in economic progress and the benefits of development
    Minorities must benefit from wealth they generate, for example when they live in areas with valuable natural resources. Also, minorities should benefit from the proceeds of wider development agendas.

The next section seeks to expose commonly held misconceptions about minority rights. The first is that minority rights are divisive; the second is that they lead to breakup of the state; the third is that they are privileges for groups; the fourth is that taking action to support minorities discriminates against the majority.

As noted above, this blog post is just an outline; the course itself is more in-depth. The following links are suggested further reading for this section:

Image: tribune.com.pk

Today’s blog post focuses on the topic of transitional justice:

* Last week, the lower house of Brazil’s congress, the Chamber of Deputies, approved the creation of a National Truth Commission. The commission will investigate human rights abuses—including forced disappearances, torture, and arbitrary executions—committed under the country’s 1964–85 military regime. It is expected that the bill will now be promptly approved by the Brazilian Senate. While noting the bill’s significant strengths, the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) has also pointed out its challenges and subsequent opportunities for successfully bringing justice to victims and their families, as well as preventing future violations. Read the ICTJ’s commentary here.

* Current UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and former ICTJ president Juan E. Méndez published a book this month, Taking a Stand: The Evolution of Human Rights, together with South Carolina Poet Laureate Marjory Wentworth. A long-time political activist, Méndez was arrested and tortured by the Argentinean government in the 1970s. He was the first executive director of Americas Watch, in 1981, and the UN’s first special adviser on the prevention of genocide, from 2004 to 2007. Taking a Stand offers critical analysis of human rights movements throughout the world and policy recommendations on both the international and domestic levels. The book has garnered favorable reviews, in part for its reliance on facts and research in addition to the author’s personal experiences.

* On September 16, ICTJ held a panel discussion called “Why the Silence on Sri Lanka?” on accountability for crimes against humanity and war crimes committed during the country’s civil war. Earlier this year, the UN Secretary-General’s Panel of Experts on Accountability in Sri Lanka released a report alleging that scores of civilians were killed by governmental operations against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam between January and May 2009. Led by Gordon Weiss, former UN spokesman in Sri Lanka and author of The Cage, and Dr. Vasuki Nesiah, academic and Sri Lanka human rights activist, the discussion focused on ways to ensure proper investigation of all crimes in Sri Lanka and other steps that will enable victims, and the country as a whole, to work toward a sustainable peace.

Photo: livejournal.com

Today we present another guest preventer from Prof. Alex Hinton’s genocide prevention class at Rutgers–Newark:

Jade Adebo, Class of 2012, majoring in Political Science with a minor in Anthropology

When I heard about a class being offered on genocide prevention, I was skeptical. In my experience, classes on the subject of genocide usually focused almost entirely on the violence, devastation, and reconciliation efforts. If ever there was any talk of preventative measures, it was presented in a cynical way, as if every other option had been exhausted. The ever-present discussions and debates over definitions and autonomy of nations left me cynical and burned out. Why was it so necessary to argue about phrasing or over protected groups? Taking the Genocide Prevention class with Dr. Hinton, which was developed in association with AIPR, helped me to fully comprehend the differing dynamics and issues that need to be addressed if proper and effective intervention, and eventually prevention of genocide, can occur.

With all my prior knowledge in genocide studies through the broader scope of human rights, I always supported a change in the study of intervention, based on analyzing and understanding different dynamics within the culture and history of a given country or region. I disagreed with the Genocide Convention’s attempt to create a blanket definition that would dictate how preventative measures would be achieved. From the broader study of human rights, which is still newly accepted as a widespread right, the convention, in its rigid structure and language, assumes that human rights is an international basic human right. This was a discourse brought into many a discussion, and was addressed very well by Fred Schwartz, who referred not to the universality of human rights, but the universality of self-interest. This approach can be easily applied to mandates such as the Responsibility to Protect, or the early warning model.

As the course concluded, I was left with a better sense of direction as to what I personally could do in the area of genocide prevention, which had been the primary interest for my attempted major. The various speakers we had left me inspired and optimistic, particularly Sheri Rosenberg, Gregory Stanton, and Tibi Galis, all of whom were either political scientists or lawyers. Through them, I was able to see how much the legal aspect of genocide prevention ties in with the grassroots work and activism, giving me creative insights as to how my future pursuit of a legal career could still influence intervention, and ultimately prevention.

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