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In this edition of the Auschwitz Institute podcast, Jared Knoll speaks with Dr. Elisa von Joeden-Forgey, a scholar and activist on the topic of gender and gender-based violence in the context of genocide and mass atrocities. Last year she published an article titled “Gender and the Future of Genocide Studies and Preventionin the journal Genocide Studies and Prevention, and in addition to having been an instructor at the Auschwitz Institute’s Raphael Lemkin Seminar for Genocide Prevention, she will be contributing to a forthcoming volume on the prevention of mass atrocities, edited by the Auschwitz Institute.

 

Welcome, I’m Jared Knoll for the Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Reconciliation. Today we’re looking at an often overlooked and under-discussed aspect of mass atrocities: gender. Joining me is Elisa von Joeden-Forgey, a prolific speaker on the subject and author of an article last year called “Gender and the Future of Genocide Studies and Prevention.” Hello, Elisa. Great to have you with us.

Thank you so much. Great to be here.

Why do we need to consider gender and gender-based violence as factors in the prevention of genocide and mass atrocities?

Well, there’s several ways to answer that. I think the primary reason it’s important that we look at gender-based violence when we’re thinking about the prevention of mass atrocities is that it is a very early warning signal when a conflict is underway. There are specific types of gender-based violence that I believe have a high correlation with genocide down the road, and when we see them used by a certain perpetrating group — whether it’s a state, or a political party, or a cadre within an armed force — when we see them using these specific forms of gender-based torture and patterns of killing, and sexual violence in particular, we can predict with some accuracy the spread of this sort of violence to greater and greater numbers of people down the road, if it’s left unchecked. And that is if there isn’t any diplomatic, political, economic, or, as a last resort, military intervention.

It isn’t talked about very much, rape and violence against women, or at least they aren’t much focused on. What do you think that says about our concerns?

There seems to be an intellectual block, in a sense, in the study of genocide to considering rape as an integral part of genocide. Of course there are many scholars who do. But in policymaking circles, frequently the widespread presence of rape or mass rape in a conflict, when it’s not attended also by co-ed massacre sites, is seen to be a special category that we call mass atrocity but not genocide. So in other words, you have several cases where the existence of gender-selective massacres of men, alongside the mass rape of women who were allowed by and large to continue living, you see that pattern used as a way to argue that genocide had not taken place, but rather war crimes, or crimes against humanity, or this much less specific term, “mass atrocity.”

What roles do you think that culture and religion play in these occurrences? Do you think there’s anything to arguments for cultural relativity, cultural sensitivity, or are we  dealing with human rights that transcend those borders?

Yeah, that’s a very interesting question, and I think it’s an important one. I see these as universals, simply because they occur in similar formats throughout most of the cases of genocide that I’ve looked at, and then also cases that aren’t commonly considered to be genocide that I would include within an understanding of genocidal processes, such as Sierra Leone, Liberia, or the current conflict in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. So there is a kind of a universal dimension to these, in that genocide expresses itself very similarly across cases. Where I think cultural sensitivity is really important, and where it becomes very interesting, is, you know, the differences in patterns. Why in certain places one kind of atrocity is more pronounced than another, for example. And what cultural factors lead to that, and whether or not those cultural factors then themselves have contributed to this genocidal process, or are they just being drawn on or implicated in the genocidal process because they exist. So those sorts of questions are very important.

I think genocide is a universal crime and that it is universally frowned upon, and should be, and so we can be safe to say that if there’s a culture that’s caught up in a genocidal logic over a long period of time that humanity needs to respond, that there needs to be some response to that. Where I think cultural relativism becomes problematic is when it treats different cultures in a kind of ossified and rigid way that actually shares some characteristics with genocidal thinking by imposing strict trenches between different groups that can’t be bridged through human conversation or dialogue. And I think that oftentimes one will find people retreating to that type of cultural relativism, when it appears, when the persons promoting the prevention of genocide are not investigating genocidal dynamics in their own societies. Where I’ve gotten questions related to cultural relativism is often in situations where it’s felt that Americans are always going around the world telling people to be aware of genocide and how to prevent genocide, without sufficient awareness of our own history of genocide and lingering patterns within our society that emerge from that history, as well as red flags that we have in this country. So to avoid that I think it’s very important that whenever we’re talking about genocide prevention, and in all of our studies of genocide, that we seek to be truly universal in the cases that we look at, right, and universal in the societies that we target for long-term prevention of genocide. And those should and have to include Western countries, including the United States.

In cases where we can identify those cultural causes that contribute toward genocide or can lead to that, do you think that it may be necessary, or do you think it may be justifiable, for the international community or for international actors to take a stand against those practices, against those factors?

Yeah, that’s a very interesting and sensitive question, and I’m glad you asked it. This question was very relevant of course to the debate about and the struggle against female genital cutting, right, or what’s often called female genital mutilation. And it was actually very harmful when there appeared to be a unidirectional command from on high that certain societies stop this practice. What was much more effective was when local NGOs — often aided by training or funding or dialogue with international bodies — but when local NGOs began initiatives to speak with the practitioners of this, to speak with parents, to speak with young people and leaders within communities to try and change the way that this practice was seen, and replace it with other practices that could ritually or culturally attain the same goals without actually harming young girls.

So I think that when we’re looking at long-term factors that contribute to genocide, one of the most important things we can do is be in dialogue with local human rights groups, local civics groups, local intellectuals, obviously — in a truly dialogic and equal fashion, where everybody’s laying out a set of ideas about what can lead to genocide. And so that you have, internally within a society, a genocide watchdog that is going to be much more sensitive and much more aware of the meaning of certain cultural practices and their potential dangers down the road than any outsider could ever be, unless of course they spent a great deal of time there and speak the language.

You’ve been talking a lot about Syria lately. There’s been a lot of concern in the international community about the possibility of genocide of the Alawites. Do you think that horse is already out of the stable?

Yes. I do. But it depends on how you look at it and how you’re defining things. Since we all agree, I think, that genocide is a process, I think we’re in the genocidal process. But perhaps we need to make a distinction between the process of genocide and the fact of genocide after the end of hostilities. It’s only of course in retrospect that we can be absolutely sure, right, or close to 100 percent sure, that something we would call a genocide happened. The Rwandan genocide looked very different at the beginning of the hundred days than it did at the end. And this was one of the problems with garnering international support for some kind of effective intervention there. And so it’s similar in Syria. However, what we do see in Syria is focused attacks on children. So not just killing by shelling, not that kind of impersonal killing, but very personalized, ritualized, torturous killing of children, both in front of their parents at the site of massacres, but also in detention, then I think that says something about the intent of the regime, or certain groups within the regime.

Can you tell us a little about your contribution to Deconstructing Prevention? Are there pertinent situations or issues you think we need to focus on that have cropped up since your 2012 article?

Yeah, that’s interesting. I think the rise of the use of the term “mass atrocity” is a very interesting thing, and it comes out of the despair that many felt during the genocide in Darfur, where it felt that a lot of the tension was taken away from the horror going on in Darfur and instead devoted to a very useless and highly politicized debate about whether or not this conflict conformed to the UN legal definition of genocide. So “mass atrocities” grew out of that sense of frustration. Who cares if it’s genocide, let’s just call it mass atrocities. But I think one of the reasons that could happen, that we needed to replace this powerful term “genocide” with “mass atrocity,” is that Darfur followed a very gender-selective pattern of genocide. And so you have men routinely massacred, whereas women were raped and allowed to continue living. And it was the fact of their continued existence that often was the reason that people were unwilling to call what was going on in Darfur genocide and instead wanted to call it ethnic cleansing, or civil war, or counterinsurgency. And so it’s out of a very gendered idea of what genocide is that this term “mass atrocity” has been created. So I think that we need to interrogate that. We need to look at why it is that we needed to create a term like “mass atrocity,” whether or not it’s effective to have an even more vague and debatable term, in a sense.

Gender and genocide was a long-term interest of mine. I didn’t know that’s what it was, but I’d always been interested in women’s Holocaust testimonies and the ways that the National Socialists sought to destroy women as women, and use children against them to do so, which is a common theme in testimonials and memoirs from the Holocaust. So I brought those two together and was doing work on gender and genocide, and then it was only through a fluke, in a sense, that Adam Jones, whose work I find to be wonderful and has been very influential on my own work, suggested me to the Auschwitz Institute to get involved in these genocide prevention — the Raphael Lemkin workshops and seminars that you guys hold. And so it was through that path, and it was really the Auschwitz Institute that got me thinking about how I can utilize my research on gender and genocide for genocide prevention.

Well, I hope you’ll continue to push our definitional outlooks on genocide and mass atrocities, and keep gender a part of the conversation. Thank you so much for joining us today.

Thank you very much.

Photo: Courtesy Elisa von Joeden-Forgey

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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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