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This past February, the Auschwitz Institute awarded the Raphael Lemkin prize to Dr. Barbara Harff, to recognize her contributions to the field of genocide prevention. Dr. Harff agreed to discuss via print correspondence some of her thoughts and positions on subjects related to the state of genocide prevention today, her past and current work, involvement with the Institute, and thoughts toward the future.
 
Dr. Harff is Professor of Political Science Emerita at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, and has twice been a distinguished visiting professor at the Strassler Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies. She is a prolific author, whose work has been important for the crafting of genocide prevention policy, as well as academics. She co-coined the useful term ‘politicide,’ and her early warning framework for genocide prevention has been a critical component of many projects and programs.

Much of your work has focused on ethnic aspects of conflicts, genocides and politicides… do you feel the role of this sort of lens has changed since you started out in the field? Do you see or foresee any potential challenges or problems in the way of this approach?

I co-authored a book on ethnic conflict and suggested that these types of conflicts have the potential to escalate into genocide (as in Rwanda), but so do other conflicts such as revolutions (see Cambodia) and adverse regime change (such as in Chile, which turned into a politicide). During the late 70’s and early 80’s, most genocide scholars (meaning all approx. 10 of us) thought that any combinations or a single  factor such as ethnicity, race, or religion were a necessary condition in most genocidal situations, given the wording of the Convention.  However, when I began collecting information on the 46 cases that eventually became the data set used by State Failure (now Political Instability Task Force), it became apparent that victims sometimes were members of mixed ethnic groups and that perpetrators targeted them because they belonged to political opposition groups. Cambodia was a classic example, where most victims and perpetrators were ethnic Khmers — only a minority of victims belonged to different ethnicities, such as the Chams, Vietnamese, and Chinese. Cambodia was a reason that I coined the term politicide, which suggests that victims not only could be members of multiple identity groups but were primarily targeted because of their political affiliation. Of the 46 cases that I identified post WWII, many are mixed cases. For example, the Kurds in Iraq and indigenous Maya that supported  the left in Guatemala.

Your work has been seminal, influencing an indeterminably wide swath of policy and scholarship… have you been particularly disappointed with any of the frameworks, policies, or concepts that have been built upon your ideas?

There are other scholars who have contributed more. I am especially thinking of my friend and mentor Helen Fein, the late Leo KuperFrank Chalk, and others. We have listened to each other, critiqued, cited, and supported one another’s efforts. We have built a discipline and it is now possible to get jobs in good universities, which was not a necessary truth in the 1980’s. As a Northwestern PhD, (according to my professors) I should have been at a major research university but the most frequently asked question at the time during interviews was, “What is that stuff you are doing?”.

How could I be disappointed? Systematic analysis is flourishing in Australia, Canada, Britain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the US—the Albright/Cohen report mentions my risk assessment and early warning efforts as something that needs doing and risk assessment is done routinely not just by me but in the US government and others. The UN (I had provided them with a framework and regular risk assessments) is a bit behind despite their talented personnel. That probably has much to do with antiquated opinions about quantitative analysis, as well as politically motivated leadership in related UN offices. When Juan Mendez became Adviser to the UN, he and his two associates visited me at my home in Annapolis to see how we could work together. I am not just a number cruncher but also a case study person and a specialist on the Middle East. Moreover, having been born into a leftist German family, I am also quite familiar about European affairs. A genocide scholar is/should not be bounded by either discipline or approach. My dissertation focused on prevention using legal philosophical arguments, but grounded in international law, and it also included an empirical exercise in which I tested empathy in different societies using fictional scenarios that had a historical base.

My/our work has caught on beyond expectations. Genocide is a household word — we have seen action in many situations and the recognition that systematic risk assessment and early warning are ever more needed is apparent. Aside from an African initiative, other governments have proceeded to establish their own centers. Why not indeed emulate the hard sciences instead of dabbling in case study-based analysis of specific situations? We do it globally based on accepted wisdom regarding dozens of cases. It is not too hard to generate good data, develop hypotheses based on theory, and then test assumptions. We/I have tested dozens of variables (including economic and environmental variables) that purport to support escalation to genocide. In addition, I developed a complex early warning model that used dynamic factors to track that evolution. For example, we tracked hate propaganda, small arms deliveries, etc. on a daily basis.

Your term and idea of politicide has not caught on as much as it perhaps could have in the international community. Are policymakers and scholars hamstringing themselves from potentially greater efficacy by not considering the targeting of political groups as a more important factor? Where would you like to see this focus brought to bear in today’s climate of conflict?

Why is there not more international action? Because, to use my old mantra, we do not know what remedies that tap state capacity and interest work in what situations at what time. What worked in Macedonia does not work in Syria. I made that argument many times and have developed response scenarios based on my early warning analysis, but much work remains. Just think of Burma—in the past, it was one of the worst case scenarios. I had argued for lifting sanctions to incorporate that country into the international community of states. There was a huge black market, and sanctions did not work—they more often make it harder for the already poor—and the West had zero influence but ASEAN, China, and Japan did—things are getting better.

Are you optimistic that the genocidal trends you’ve studied for three decades are diminishing? Can you realistically envision a world where we have early warning systems adequate to the task of completely circumventing mass atrocities?

For the time being, the occurrence of genocides are diminishing. But over the long run, I am pessimistic.  The West may have a learned a few more lessons after Bosnia but Africans will be challenged by Muslim radicals—see Mali, Northern Nigeria, the 10th century maps of Islamic expansion. I am deeply disturbed by the emergence of right-wing movements in Europe that occasionally spout anti-Jewish rhetoric. In addition, there are indigenous peoples still under threat of annihilation, ethnic cleansing, and extreme discrimination, such as the indigenous peoples of West Papua.

What role do area experts have to play?

Experts need to both show compassion and distance themselves from quick judgment. Most of us are driven by a belief and desire that it is possible to build a better world, based on mutual respect and tolerance. However, given the unequal  distribution of resources, lack of access to education, and re-emerging  medieval  ideas about how women should be treated, I am a profound pessimist. Especially disturbing for me is re-emerging anti-semitism in its most primitive form (blood libel, the Protocol of the Elders of Zion, etc).  Are we regressing to superstitions and the caveman mentality that drove Nazis? I see a dangerous trend evolving in the Muslim world—tribalism, sectarianism, radical forms of Islam (Salafis), indoctrination of their unemployed and undereducated youth. Where will it lead?

Regarding Syria, is there an onus on Western actors to intervene, or otherwise impact the conflict? What sorts of missteps are we in danger of making?

It made my list of extremely high-risk cases before the outbreak of violence. The UN was informed—we had pictures of mines on the border with Turkey—their aim was to maim refugees. But the West is tired and sees the Middle East as a cauldron of  ever re-emerging conflicts. There is a real lack of enlightened leadership. You cannot build democracies by relying on networks of families, clans, tribes, sectarian and/or religious loyalties. We have always underestimated the strength of these ties. Countries running out of energy, water, having extended droughts and exploding birthrates are endangered to descend into chaos. Of the few that have functional educational systems, meaning they educate their young in the sciences, there are no opportunities. Maybe these countries have to go through these convulsions to find their way into the modern world. It is possible that Yemen, the poorest and most vulnerable (running out of water), has a chance of success through inter-tribal dialogue that includes women to build a stable autocracy or semi-democracy. Syria as of now may divide into Sunni, Alawite, and Kurdish regions under the influence of Iran/Russia/Saudi Arabia, and/or aligned with Salafis in Egypt. Of course, this is speculation.

How did you come to be involved with the Auschwitz Institute? Has your time as an instructor impacted any aspects of your scholarship or views?

What AIPR does is laudable, to put it mildly. As to my two lectures and one interview, the interview went well but the Jagiellonian University’s information system had too few subscribers. One lecture went well; the other, nowhere.  I expected the participants to read and they did not. Well, a lesson learned—start on a more basic level. My suggestion is to be bold—challenge re-emerging anti-semitism wherever you find it. Some of our young hosts (Jewish students from Poland)  told me that they keep a low profile—it deeply upset me. And then there is Auschwitz—as a German born non-Jewish scholar, it provides all the answers about why I am doing this kind of work—but this place is hell on earth and am I bothered that some visitors show a lack of respect when they walk over one of the largest cemeteries on earth.

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Scott Straus, Winnick Fellow at the Committee on Conscience at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, recently wrote a working paper entitled, “Identifying Genocide and Related Forms of Mass Atrocity.” The central issue addressed by the paper is how members of the atrocity prevention community (his terminology) label crisis situations and identify emergent patterns of violence. Straus says conceptual analysis matters because:

  1. The atrocity prevention community must have a working definition of what class of events is in its domain of response.
  2. It is objectively difficult to know in the midst of the crisis whether or not it will escalate to a level that would trigger a response, that is, to genocide or mass atrocity.
  3. Conceptual analysis can help outside observers to identify and categorize different types of situations of atrocity and to recommend policy responses on the basis of those distinctions.
  4. Conceptual analysis and rigor will help organizations use language that over time will maintain or enhance their credibility.

Straus first endeavors to define/conceptualize the term “genocide.” He writes that the core consensus is that “genocide refers to violence that is extensive (deliberate, large scale, organized, systematic, sustained, widespread), group-selective (targeted at groups), and group-destructive (designed to destroy groups in particular territories under perpetrators’ control). Raphael Lemkin coined the term genocide in 1944 to mean the “destruction of a nation or of an ethnic group” and as the “destruction of human groups.” The 1948 United Nations Genocide Convention defines genocide as the “intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial, or religious group, as such.” Five methods of genocide are then specified:

  1. killing members of the group;
  2. causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
  3. deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
  4. imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; and
  5. forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

The next part of the paper focuses on indicators and questions of genocide. In addressing group-selective patterns of violence, Straus poses four questions to help determine if genocide is taking place or about to occur: Does evidence exist of isolating and separating out specific identifiable social groups, whether those groups are ethnic, racial, religious, political, economic, or even regional? In the course of violence, does evidence indicate that perpetrators are identifying individuals for the commission of violence on the basis of those individuals’ ostensible membership in groups? Are civilians being deliberately targeted? Does evidence indicate that the violence is conforming to a logic of attacking groups, that is, are symbols or stereotypes of specific groups being targeted?

Straus goes on to say that in addition to groupness, genocide is extensive violence. To assess extent, “outside observers can look at deliberateness, at scale (are substantial numbers being targeted?), at systematicity (organization, coordination, patterned regularity), at time (repetition and sustainment, which are implied by systematicity), at geography (widespread breadth), and at capacity (ability to inflict violence, involvement in violence-specialized institutions). Lastly, another method of evaluating whether or not genocide is taking place is to ask if the pattern of violence is consistent with a logic of group destruction: Do the patterns of violence in genocide include acts that are consistent with group destruction? Does the violence target not only those members of a social group who pose an immediate threat (according to the perpetrator), but also those who are essential to a group’s reproduction, notably children and women clearly not engaged in combat? Is the language used to justify the violemce consistent with a logic of group destruction? Genocide exhibits a logic of “final solutions.”

Straus uses Darfur and Kenya as case examples, then discusses sources of conceptual disagreement. These include whether or not genocide should be the gold standard for intervention, determining how much group destruction needs to occur to cross the threshold to “genocide,” and whether the Holocaust should be the model for genocide. Observers also have conflicting objectives in when and how they use the term. There is a moral or ethical objective, the fact that genocide is also a legal concept, and a more empirical usage as a concept that identifies a specific type of violence.

Because of both the limits and ambiguities of the term “genocide,” more general umbrella concepts are gaining popularity, namely mass atrocity, crimes against humanity, and mass killing. Writes Straus,

The most common emerging general concept in the atrocity prevention community is mass atrocity. Mass atrocity has no formal, legal definition, but in most usages the concept aggregates other legal (or commonly employed) concepts, in particular genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and ethnic cleansing… Ethnic cleansing has no formal legal definition, but in general ethnic cleansing might be thought of as a set of actions designed to remove forcibly specific civilian groups from a territory… War crimes are defined in Article 8 of the Rome Statute. Although many different kinds of cases are covered under war crimes, in general, war crimes refer to significant violence against civilians in wartime. War crimes include killing, torture, hostage-taking, depriving prisoners of war rights, destroying shelter, and generally attacking civilians deliberately in war.

Three other important umbrella concepts are mass killing, mass violence, and democide (the murder of any person or people by a government). Then there are the parallel concepts of politicide, classicide, and gendercide. Politicide refers to the destruction of political groups in the way that genocide in the Convention refers to the destruction of ethnic, racial, national, and religious groups. Classicide refers to the intended mass killing of social classes, and gendercide refers to systematic destruction of gender.

To conclude, Straus recommends

that those in the atrocity prevention community should choose a standard that is reasoned, transparent, and, if response is the goal, of a high threshold. The standard should also be flexible enough to allow for ambiguities as events unfold. The net sum of the conceptual analysis in this paper is effectively a choice between two standards. One derives strictly from an analysis if terms that are broader than genocide… The second standard hews more closely to genocide but is broader and tries to avoid some of the problems with the way genocide has been incorporated into international law… drawing from the scholarly literature that emphasizes groups beyond those protected in the Convention, the conceptual standard does not limit itself to ethnic, racial, religious, and national groups. The standard applies to any social group that the perpetrator targets. The standard does not focus on intent per se, but rather reorients attention to issues of extent and scale, in particular the proportion of the target group that is affected by the violence.

Photo: krieger.jhu.edu

As part of our mission of identifying and educating the women and men who will become tomorrow’s leaders in preventing genocide, the Auschwitz Institute, in conjunction with Professor Alex Hinton of Rutgers University in Newark, has developed an undergraduate course in genocide prevention. This semester Prof. Hinton is teaching the course for the first time, and AIPR has invited the students to share about it on our blog.

So today we present our first Guest Preventer from Rutgers–Newark:

My name is Konrad Ratzmann, and I am an anthropology major at Rutgers–Newark looking to graduate in 2012. The topic of genocide has intrigued me for several years, although mostly in a nonacademic sense. I had long wondered how humans could possess the capacity to inflict such vast amounts of suffering and death on the basis of identity alone. Coming to Rutgers and studying war, colonialism, violence, and genocide in various courses and disciplines provided me with some insights toward the systematic processes and psychological aspects that make such atrocities possible, but none of them seemed to discuss what could be done to prevent such horrors in the future. This always irritated me. After all, what good was studying such things if nothing was being done to stop them? Purely academic studies can provide meaningful insights to the fields in which they are performed, but I feel that there should be, at the very least, an attempt toward an academic activism of sorts. When I had to register for classes and I saw Genocide Prevention, I knew that I had found a class that could provide me with the experience I was looking for.

Of course some traditional academic concepts and theories were addressed at the beginning of the semester, such as the varying definitions of genocide and the conflicts that arise due to disparities between definitions. This frustrated me, to some degree, because I felt that genocide is an atrocity that is far too horrid to ever be defined to complete satisfaction—the academic quibbling about the semantics of genocide seemed to miss the importance of the issue and fall into self-centered patterns that hinder progress. After all, what is the use of debating whether or not something is “technically” genocide when the death tolls continue to rise? However, my outlook was soon changed as the course progressed. As noted by Adam Jones, who addressed the class on February 15, such discussions are important because they signify an increase and continuous interest in the field of genocide studies, and thus allow for more minds to focus on working toward prevention in a multitude of manners.

The opportunity to interact with the minds behind genocide study and prevention makes this course unlike any other I have taken before. It is in such meetings that the true beauty of this course exists. Being exposed to new approaches toward genocide studies and prevention efforts every week is not only enlightening and informing, but also inspiring. In actually meeting the minds behind conflicting definitions and approaches to genocide, I see the importance of the academic conflicts—different conceptions of what constitutes genocide allow for different approaches toward prevention; disagreements inspire greater focus on issues of contention. In this sense, such discussions allow for genocide prevention efforts to be more encompassing. If nobody was concerned with whether or not gendercide or politicide could be considered as aspects of genocide, then perhaps efforts to combat such sufferings would be overlooked. A lack of academic consensus does not hinder progress, as I had previously felt; instead, it is one of the most valuable tools at our disposal in ensuring that our efforts to reduce suffering and genocidal violence are as encompassing as possible.

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