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Today on the AIPR Blog, Daniel Solomon, an independent researcher on mass atrocity issues who blogs at Securing Rights, discusses The Early Warning Project, a new mass atrocity forecasting program that combines statistical forecasting with crowd-sourced intelligence from a pool of invited experts, of which Solomon is among.
In December 2008, the final report of the Genocide Prevention Task Force (GPTF), a high-profile convening of U.S. officials and policy experts, described “early warning” as a prerequisite of effective mass atrocity response. Early warning, which the group defined too-narrowly as “getting critical information [about mass atrocities] to policymakers,” has since emerged as a keystone of local, national, and international mass atrocity prevention agendas. The first adage of mass atrocity prevention, that it is possible, is closely followed by a second: mass atrocities can be known, far in advance of their onset.
Early warning, defined more broadly, far predates the GPTF report; since 2008, however, policy-oriented warning programs have proliferated widely. Recent innovations in statistical forecasting have borne fruit in parallel models of mass atrocity risk. Among several programs, one stands out: the Early Warning Project, a partnership between the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Center for the Prevention of Genocide and Dartmouth’s Dickey Center for International Understanding. Unlike similar programs, which rest on the predictive grist of specific models, the Early Warning Project creates an interaction between statistical forecasting and the “wisdom of the [expert] crowd.” In the project’s expert opinion pool, of which I am a member, area scholars and mass atrocity specialists fill the blind spots of quantitative indicators. At the same time, the project’s quantitative side informs the specialists. If we can anticipate mass atrocities before they occur, it is only through the pluralism of knowledge, which the Early Warning Project advances.
Like much of the mass atrocity prevention agenda, early warning does not exist in a vacuum; each program warns about a specific event, for a specific audience. Some programs, formal and informal, identify local threats to vulnerable civilians: in northern Nigeria, an interfaith consortium gathers town-level data about trends in mass violence, for town-level use. The scope of the Early Warning Project is general by design. The project’s statistical model—and, to a partial extent, its expert opinion pool—measure risk in “country-years,” namely, annual, country-level indicators of mass violence. In tandem, the model and the expert pool can describe the risk of mass violence in Sudan, in 2015; only the pool, with its malleable question set, can describe the same risk in Darfur during November of the same year. The predictive model is only as nuanced as its data allows. Without more granular indicators, more specific prediction exceeds the project’s scope. It leaves to others—field researchers, journalists, human rights monitors—the question of how perpetrators may kill, or where, or when.
If the project’s audience is diverse, it is also limited. The explicit audience of the project’s warnings is a digital public: an assortment of individuals, organizations, and officials, often linked to institutions of the so-called global North, with continuous access to web-based information. This is a significant improvement from the status quo. Existing attempts at systematic warning models, such as those spearheaded by the CIA-funded Political Instability Task Force, are proprietary to the U.S. government; separate public efforts to assess and rank the global risk of mass violence, such as the International Crisis Group’s CrisisWatch bulletin, often lack comprehensiveness, whatever their qualitative value. Despite these improvements, the shortcomings of the program’s audience are also clear. These warnings are not intended for communities in conflict-affected areas. In fact, civilians and civil society for whom violence is imminent will likely find little use for the program’s country-year assessments. These groups may receive separate, more specific warnings that describe the time and location of a society’s mass violence.
In some circumstances, a common practice of mass atrocity prevention is unachievable and unproductive. As AIPR Board Member Sheri Rosenberg often observes, the relative entropy of the field of mass atrocity prevention may prove more fruitful than its false organization. A practitioner may approach the prevention of mass violence from various angles and levels of political organization, each equally as worthy as its counterpart.
Several approaches to prevention, however, may benefit from the agenda the Early Warning Project’s risk assessments provide. Where it works best, the Early Warning Project is an agenda-setting tool: it tells practitioners, if imperfectly, which crises loom on the near horizon. For the informed practitioner, the program’s findings will contain few surprises (any way you slice it, the likelihood of mass violence in countries like Myanmar is an apparent fact). Its strength is not in the creation of new knowledge, but in the transparent collection of existing knowledge about global trends in mass violence. The statistical model’s criteria is publicly accessible: through its blog, the project is also finding ways to make the conclusions of its expert pool equally transparent. The advocacy efforts of coalition groups like the Prevention and Protection Working Group, which informed the creation of the U.S. government’s Atrocities Prevention Board, or the R2P Focal Points initiative of the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, which organizes global collective support for the “responsibility to protect” doctrine, are often ad-hoc. These groups may use the Early Warning Project’s findings, as well as associated media coverage, as a wedge for collective global and regional action.
Of course, the political tenuousness of prevention will remain. One imagines the government of South Sudan, for example, is none too pleased by its unfortunate rank on the Early Warning Project’s list. But the possibility of limited consensus, often elusive in the practice of mass atrocity prevention, will likely advance our current status quo.
On 4 December, the Leitner Center for International Law and Justice at Fordham Law School presented a panel discussion entitled “Overcoming Genocide Denial.” Professor Martin Flaherty, the event’s moderator, gave the opening remarks.
The first panelist to speak was Dr. Gregory Stanton, founder and president of Genocide Watch. His talk focused on how to deny a genocide, as he notes that denial is the final stage of all genocides. Denial occurs both during and after a genocide, and triples the probability of further or future genocide. It also extends the crime of genocide to future generations of victims. Because of its prevalence, the tactics of genocide denial are predictable:
- Question and minimize the statistics.
- Attack the motivations of the truth-tellers.
- Claim that the deaths were inadvertent (i.e., as a result of famine, migration, or disease, not because of willful murder).
- Emphasize the strangeness of the victims.
- Rationalize the deaths as the result of tribal conflict.
- Blame “out of control” forces for committing the killings.
- Avoid antagonizing the genocidaires, who might walk out of “the peace process.”
- Justify denial in favor of current economic interests.
- Claim that the victims are receiving good treatment.
- Claim that what is going on doesn’t fit the definition of genocide.
- Blame the victims.
- Say that peace and reconciliation are more important than blaming people for genocide.
According to Dr. Stanton, there are ways to prevent denial, such as:
- If the state that is committing the genocide (or in which it occurs) is not a State-Party to the Rome Treaty of the International Criminal Court, the UN Security Council should confer jurisdiction over the situation on the ICC.
- If the genocidal regime has been overthrown, the UN should help the successor government form courts to try the perpetrators.
The next panelist to present was Professor Taner Akçam, who focused on Turkey’s denial of the Armenian Genocide. He posits that one of the main reasons for this denial is that to acknowledge it would be to turn national heroes into villains. Another result of/hurdle to acknowledgement would be that Turkey would have to pay reparations. While state policy may differ from societal attitudes, the lie has gone on too long to simply reverse it and admit the truth–an entire society and culture has been built upon this secret/lie to the point of creating what Professor Akçam refers to as a “communicative reality.” The existence of the Turkish people has been contingent upon the non-existence of Armenians. [Read the full text of Professor Akçam’s presentation.]
The third and final speaker was Professor Sheri Rosenberg. Her presentation was on her experiences with genocide denial in Rwanda. She started by saying that genocide denial impedes healing, reconciliation, and transitional justice. In Rwanda, where perpetrators live side by side with survivors, there are laws against genocide ideology, as well as against discrimination and sectarianism. The genocide ideology law is simultaneously retrospective and prospective but problematic in that it constricts the public space and suppresses meaningful dialogue. This, in turn, can have a negative effect on individual and group conceptions of identity.
After the panelists concluded, the floor was opened for a Q&A session. In discussing Europe and Holocaust denial laws, Dr. Stanton said he believes such laws in general create a problem by instantly opposing free speech. Moreover, they don’t make a distinction between incitement and having amorphous genocidal thoughts. The next topic was Turkey and Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code, which makes it illegal to insult Turkey, the Turkish ethnicity, or Turkish government institutions. Professor Akçam said that if the United State acknowledged the Armenian Genocide, the problem would be solved in about three years because of the economic pressure that would be put on Turkey. Additionally, regional security must include historic injustices.
Another audience member asked about accountability for atrocities committed in Burma/Myanmar. That could be accomplished through the Alien Tort Statute, a section of the United States Code that states, “The district courts shall have original jurisdiction of any civil action by an alien for a tort only, committed in violation of the law of nations or a treaty of the United States.” In other words, U.S. courts can hear human rights cases brought by foreign citizens for conduct committed outside the United States. Dr. Stanton ended the evening by saying that Iran should be brought in front of the International Court of Justice for “Direct and public incitement to commit genocide,” a punishable act under Article 3 of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.
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.
A former bourgmestre (mayor) of Kabarondo Commune in Rwanda, Tito Barahira, has been arrested in France on six indictments, including genocide and conspiracy to commit genocide, AllAfrica.com reports. “We definitely commend this arrest, especially as we are going into the difficult days of commemorating our dear ones that were killed in cold blood during the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi,” John Bosco Siboyintore, the acting head of the Genocide Fugitives Tracking Unit, said.
Auschwitz Institute instructor Sheri Rosenberg published an article in the Gulf Times of Qatar titled “The responsibility to protect: Libya and beyond.” Rosenberg, who is director of Cardozo Law School’s Program in Holocaust and Human Rights Studies and also its Human Rights and Genocide Clinic, writes that “it is unquestionably positive that the world powers have reacted to protect innocent lives, as the reality and threat of massacres in Libya was apparent to all,” but she is careful to emphasize that “the use of military force is a last resort and not the poster child of the evolving international policy doctrine known as the Responsibility to Protect.”
Nicholas Kristof, writing about the Libyan intervention in the New York Times, argued that the world must not forget that “Mr. Obama and other world leaders did something truly extraordinary, wonderful and rare: they ordered a humanitarian intervention that saved thousands of lives and that even Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s closest aides seem to think will lead to his ouster.” Kristof writes that it has been rare for major powers to intervene militarily for predominantly humanitarian reasons, but he hopes the Libya intervention will give more teeth to the Responsibility to Protect doctrine.
A humanitarian crisis is still looming in the Ivory Coast, the BBC reports. Continued fighting has resulted in necessary supplies decreasing for many civilians. Reuters Africa reported that after France’s intervention last week, Laurent Gbagbo, who refuses to step down as president despite having lost elections last year, has continued to negotiate his possible departure.