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By MARISSA GOLDFADEN

Earlier this week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (pictured here) gave the keynote address at a symposium hosted by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM), in partnership with the Council on Foreign Relations and CNN, entitled Imagine the Unimaginable: Ending Genocide in the 21st Century. Foreign Policy blogger and USHMM fellow Michael Dobbs attended the event, of which he writes, “The consensus among the speakers, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, was that the most effective kind of intervention is long-term preventive action. Once the killing starts, whether in Bosnia or Rwanda or Syria, it is virtually impossible to prevent it.” According to the USHMM, “In the coming decades, environmental challenges and resource scarcity could aggravate ethnic conflicts, affecting why genocides happen and how they are addressed.” Holocaust scholar and Yale historian Timothy Snyder expounded on this idea at the symposium. According to the New York Times, Snyder said,

“We’ve entered into this moment of ecological panic. Global warming will itself almost certainly directly cause mass killing, but it will likely indirectly cause it” as major states like China and the United States seek to feed their citizens, possibly touching off shortages elsewhere, in places that would then be at risk. China has already begun to act and, in a potential harbinger of future problems, has been investing in farmland in Ukraine and in parts of Africa for a few years.

These views and fears were shared and discussed by AIPR Executive Director Tibi Galis’ talk at the Carnegie Council last month, “What Does It Mean to Prevent Genocide?” All of which leads one to wonder, how is the United States addressing genocide? Here are strategies highlighted by Secretary Clinton:

  1. Creation of Atrocities Prevention Board, “an interagency body that generates strategy and coordinates various agencies’ atrocity prevention work.”
  2. Officers in “at-risk countries” to receive training to prepare them to be more alert to warning signs and provide real-time analysis. Also, expansion of “civilian surge capacity” with new focus on atrocity prevention.
  3. Leveraging innovative technologies to identify and respond to mass atrocities.
  4. Redoubling efforts to work with women to attain information about sexual and gender-based violence, particularly in “at-risk” regions.
  5. Perpetrators of genocide and mass atrocities to be pressured through coercive measures and clearly warned that they “will be held accountable.”
  6. Expanded partnerships with governments, organizations, and the private sector to bolster tools to prevent and counter atrocities. For instance, the administration will work to expand “connections with the private sector because companies that respect human rights foster an environment in which atrocities are less likely to occur.”

Photo: dobbs.foreignpolicy.com

Michael Dobbs’s column in Foreign Policy is currently examining the use of intelligence in genocide prevention, including posting reconnaissance imagery. According to STAND National Director Daniel Solomon, “While Dobbs recognizes the obvious benefit of hindsight in his brief analytical overview, he faults the intelligence community for its failure to recognize the integral relationship between military mobilization and mass atrocities in the Serbian military’s Srebrenica offensive.” Though Dobbs’s series is focused on the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, the exposition he provides is equally applicable to the case of Sri Lanka.

Reporting for Truthout, Emanuel Stoakes writes that it is believed the State Department holds “a live file containing evidence of multiple offences committed by both sides during the [Sri Lankan civil] war, including testimony from [a former Army general] and other military, diplomatic and civilian figures.” Furthermore,

During the war, the United States used satellites to carefully monitor events in the Vanni region of the island where the war’s last battles occurred. Images sourced from the State Department have been referenced in a number of reports by non-governmental organizations and others, which provoked some speculation as to the evidence the US has which remains undisclosed to the public.

Another example of how intelligence comes into play in the Sri Lanka example is the fact that on May 1, 2009, Foreign Minister Palitha Kohona told Al Jazeera that the Sri Lankan government had shelled a government-declared no-fire zone after he had denied such action in a previous interview. When confronted with satellite imagery that appeared to show shell damage and indicated the use of weaponry with the no-fire zone, Kohona claimed that this occurred before any civilians were in the safety area.

At present, no Sri Lankan civilian or military chain of command member has been prosecuted for alleged offenses committed during the war.

Photo: foreignpolicy.com

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.

Photo: channel4.com

Christopher Kousouros holds a B.A. in International Studies from the University of Wisconsin at Madison. 

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum has launched a new website, “The Mladic Files,” documenting Ratko Mladic’s trial in The Hague. The project will also explore the larger framework, such as if future mass atrocities can be prevented by bringing past and present perpetrators to justice. Mladic was indicted for genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes committed while commander of the Bosnian Serb Army during the 1992-95 Balkans conflict; the project leader is the Museum’s Goldfarb Fellow, prize-winning foreign correspondent and author Michael Dobbs, who will not only observe the legal proceedings in The Hague, but also interview Mladic’s victims and cohorts, as part of his investigation into the 1995 Srebrenica massacre. All of Dobbs’ findings will be posted to the project’s blog.

The Museum has long spotlighted the atrocities that occurred in the Balkans, with a particular focus on the Sreberenica massacre, one of only a few cases the international community has deemed genocide. As such, the Museum has also been monitoring the arrests and trials of those accused of crimes against humanity in the region. The Committee on Conscience, a standing committee of the Museum’s Council, is the guiding force behind the Museum’s work on genocide and related crimes against humanity. The Committee on Conscience is mandated with alerting the national conscience, influencing policy makers, and stimulating worldwide action to confront and work to halt acts of genocide or related crimes against humanity.

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