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

Yannek Smith, Class of 2011, Political Science major

Professor Hinton’s genocide prevention course is the culmination of my undergraduate studies. I knew as soon as I heard about it that this was not something to pass up. Here was a unique opportunity to take a class sponsored by the Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Reconciliation, taught by Alex Hinton, one of the world’s top genocide scholars. It includes weekly visits by prominent actors in the field of genocide prevention who come to teach the class about their work and share their views on this expanding field. This is something special, and I am grateful to be a part of it.

When most people hear the word genocide, it evokes certain images: the Jewish Holocaust, the Hutus’ massacre of the Tutsis, perhaps Pol Pot’s Cambodia, and (increasingly) the genocide of the Armenians. These are the most infamous cases of genocide in the 20th century, the ones that stick out the most in our recent historical memory. What the course does a wonderful job illustrating is that these atrocities are not isolated cases. Genocide is far more common than most people imagine; it cuts across class, culture, and ideology. The targets include a wide a range of groups, real and imagined, albeit several that are not included in the 1948 Genocide Convention’s narrow definition. More important than academic debates over what constitutes genocide is adopting a utilitarian approach and looking at the roots of this phenomenon and what can be done to stop genocidal behavior in its early stages.

In class, we are learning to see genocide on a spectrum, as a series of steps or stages that can be identified and addressed. We demystify the concept and look at it through a sober lens. This requires accepting many difficult truths: genocide is a huge part of human history (the United States and the greater “New World,” for instance, were founded on genocide), genocidaires are rational actors (there is always some kind of logic to genocide), and it can happen anywhere. Fred Schwartz, the founder of AIPR, would add that genocide, like rape or murder, will never cease to exist. Humans have always done it, and will continue it, and the challenge therefore is to detect it and defeat it in its early stages, or if it is too late, minimize the damage.

The human rights movement is essentially a fight to improve the human condition; to protect people on a global scale from abusive governments, torture, the torments of abject poverty, and—the gravest crime against our humanity—the crime of genocide. Prof. Hinton and our weekly speakers teach us about the shifting paradigms in genocide prevention, the different legal instruments that are out there, and the challenges and barriers of our current international order and the United Nations system. Things are changing fast, and many questions linger: What is the future of Responsibility to Protect? Why is the world sitting and watching as Libyan and Ivoirian people are deprived of basic human rights? How should we address the delicate issue of sovereignty?

The students in our class are in a privileged position: we are intellectually equipped to address these important questions. I hope that this educational initiative will not end with our class, so that in the future a broader range of students can become active participants in the fight against genocide.

March 1, the UN General Assembly suspended Libya’s membership in the Human Rights Council in Geneva. Following the vote, U.S. ambassador to the UN Susan Rice commented: “This is the first time that either the Human Rights Council or its predecessor, the Human Rights Commission, have suspended any member state for gross violations of human rights. And we think this is an important step forward in enhancing the credibility of the Human Rights Council.” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the United States “continue[s] to demand an immediate halt to the violence perpetrated by the Qadhafi government against its own citizens.”

Rwanda’s minister of foreign affairs, Louise Mushikiwabo, stated that the appointment of Alain Juppé as France’s foreign minister was a “bad surprise” for Rwanda, reported. During Juppé’s previous tenure as French foreign minister, from 1993 to 1995, an investigation found that he strongly supported the forces that committed the genocide.

The UN has again released reports warning of a civil war in the Ivory Coast. Most recently, security forces in the country shot dead seven women who were protesting against Laurent Gbagbo, ABC News reported. According to CBC News, soldiers allegedly “mowed down women protesting [Gbagbo’s] refusal to leave power in a hail of gunfire Thursday, killing at least six and shocking a nation where women’s marches have historically been used as a last resort against an unrestrained army.”

CNN has released an interactive site showing the current rebellion in the Middle East country by country, specifically noting the causes of the unrest.

Photo: CBC News

The AIPR blog is pleased to have Mary Stata of the Friends Committee on National Legislation posting this week as our first Guest Preventer:

On February 19, 1986, the United States Senate ratified the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. Significant pressure from Senator William Proxmire and the U.S. public paved the way for U.S. ratification. However, rather than meeting the aspirations of the Convention on Genocide to prevent future atrocities, the past 25 years have been witness to mass killings of civilians in the Balkans, Sudan, and Rwanda. The United States and the international community failed to prevent these atrocities despite access to intelligence on each escalating crisis. More recently, warning signs of impending violence in places like Côte d’Ivoire, Kenya, and Kyrgyzstan did not lead to prompt policy reviews or preventive action.

The 2008 Genocide Prevention Task Force found significant gaps in U.S. policy and capacities to help prevent atrocities and offered a blueprint for improvements. The Obama administration and Congress have taken some steps toward implementing these recommendations, including Senate passage in December 2010 of a resolution (S. Con. Res. 71) calling for specific steps to improve U.S. capacities to prevent genocide and mass atrocities.

Despite these initial steps, the United States remains ill equipped to effectively prevent mass killings of civilians. Fortunately, a new movement of NGOs and grassroots activists is poised to work with Congress to translate the mantra “Never Again” into practical policy solutions. The Friends Committee on National Legislation, a Quaker lobby group in the public interest, convenes a working group focused on this policy agenda. The Prevention and Protection Working Group is an advocacy platform dedicated to preventing genocide and mass atrocities and protecting civilians threatened by this violence. Comprised of human rights, anti-genocide, humanitarian, peace, and faith-based organizations, the Prevention and Protection Working Group leverages its grassroots networks, media outreach, and Congressional and administration lobbying to strengthen U.S. civilian capacities to prevent genocide.

Significant work remains. The 112th Congress has yet to outline a human rights agenda, and no Proxmire-like leadership has yet stepped forward to champion the critical next legislative steps on genocide prevention. The solutions are known, but the practical policy steps have yet to be taken. The Prevention and Protection Working Group will work over the next year to enact policy that effectively prevents genocide before the killing starts.

To sign up for the FCNL newsletter on current legislation and other ways to take action on genocide prevention and related issues, click here.

Mary Stata is the Prevention and Protection Working Group Coordinator with the Friends Committee on National Legislation in Washington, DC.

The Libyan deputy ambassador to the U.N., Ibrahim Dabbashi, has stated in an interview with the BBC that genocide is occurring in Libya. Dabbashi spoke about the protests against the government and the violence being perpetrated against non-state actors by the government. Dabbashi urged the international community to establish a safe passage for medical supplies to get to Libya and for the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court to start investigating the crimes against humanity being committed by Gaddafi against his own people.
[Update: the UN Secretary-General’s Special Advisers on the Prevention of Genocide (Francis Deng) and Responsibility to Protect (Edward Luck) issued a statement saying they were “alarmed by the reports of mass violence coming from the Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya.” They continued: “If the reported nature and scale of such attacks are confirmed, they may well constitute crimes against humanity, for which national authorities should be held accountable.”]

A mobile military court in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo investigating a case of mass rape has sentenced Lt Col Kibibi Mutware to 20 years in jail. He was found guilty of crimes against humanity for sending his troops to rape, beat up and loot from the population of Fizi on New Year’s Day, BBC News reported. The IntLawGrrls Blog commented: “If other crimes could be prosecuted as seriously as gender crimes, genuine progress on respecting the rule of law, maintaining order, and creating stability and prosperity is not only possible, but probable.”

Fresh clashes have erupted between supporters of Côte d’Ivoire’s rival presidents as the presidents of Chad, Mauritania, South Africa and Tanzania arrived to launch a new bid to break the impasse AllAfrica has reported. The U.N. Secretary-General’s Special Advisers on the Prevention of Genocide and the Responsibility to Protect commented in January on the dire situation in Côte d’Ivoire.



From January 24-31 the African Union Summit is being held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.  The 2011 theme is “Towards Greater Unity and Integration through Shared Values.”  Daily Nation reported on the 29th that some critical issues during the summit will include the Cote d’Ivoire crisis, Kenya’s stance on the International Criminal Court and the recent referendum in Sudan inclusive of the continuing arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir.  Al Jazeera published an in-depth interview with Paul Kagame, Rwanda’s current president, focusing on the success of the country after the 1994 genocide.  The interview highlighted the issues of institution-building, corruption, human rights and the rule of law in building a successful and safe nation.

On January 28, Cambodia’s UN-assisted genocide courts (Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia) received a pledge from Japan for a further  $11.7 million contribution to assist with the proceedings.  The tribunal convicted its first defendant last year and is currently trying four members of the Khmer Rouge regime. The Associated Foreign Press reported on February 1 that three of these men applied to be released whilst they await trial for genocide.


The US Supreme Court reaffirmed that state public school guidelines can exclude materials disputing that the mass killing of Armenians in the early 20th century constituted genocide. This decision, reported in the Boston Globe, is seen as a victory for Armenian groups, even though the Assembly of Turkish American Associations had argued that removing the references prevented students from learning more than one view.

Foreign Policy Magazine, and their online blog Passport, discussed the Ivory Coast, focusing on the escalating situation and the issues of genocide definition and military intervention.  Hirondelle News Agency also reported on the current cases being heard in the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. They also drew attention to the first German trial in relation to the 1994 genocide.  The accused, Onesphore Rwabukombe, former mayor of Muvumba (eastern Rwanda), is charged with “ordering and coordinating three massacres” committed between 1990 and 1994.

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