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“Goals and Dreams”:
Honoring Rwanda’s Memory and Looking to the Future
When a community gathers to commemorate a horrific occurrence like genocide, it does so not only to remember the victims, both living and deceased, but also to demonstrate a commitment to ensuring that others might never be made to endure similar atrocities in the future. In this way, such events are particularly powerful because they underscore the belief that “never again” also means to “never forget.”
April marks the 19th anniversary of the 1994 Rwandan genocide, in which 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were savagely murdered by their Hutu extremist neighbors, who believed that a person’s ethnicity determined his or her right to life. Nearly two decades later, the legacy of these victims and their descendants is continually remembered throughout the world, as the darkness of those 100 days of slaughter has left an impermeable mark on humanity, along with a resolve to do better the next time we are faced with similar situations. In an effort to uphold this commitment, on April 14, Jacqueline Murekatete, a Rwandan genocide survivor and founder of MCW Jacqueline’s Human Rights Corner, organized “A Special Program Commemorating the 19th Anniversary of the Genocide Against the Tutsis in Rwanda,” at New York University Law School, co-sponsored by the Latino Law Students Association. Featured guests at the event were Auschwitz Institute executive director Tibi Galis and CBS 60 Minutes assistant producer Jonathan Schienberg.
Murekatete opened the program by reminding those in attendance that it is important to raise awareness and support for genocide survivors in Rwanda, as well as to remember those “whose lives were brutally and unjustly taken away.” She then offered a moment of silence for the victims in Rwanda as well, before turning the microphone over to Khalid Elachi of MCW, who explained that the organization’s goal is “to empower young people to become agents of change,” citing the building of a community center in Rwanda and the establishment of Jacqueline’s Human Rights Corner as examples of how MCW carries out its mission.
These remarks were followed by a short film entitled Jacqueline’s Journey, produced by Schienberg and shown publicly for the first time. In the video, Murekatete discusses her personal survival during the Rwandan genocide, despite losing her entire immediate family and many aunts and uncles, as well as how she eventually arrived in the United States and became inspired to start telling her own story. She emphasized the importance of enabling survivors to achieve their goals and dreams, and to “live a life that our families could be proud of, if they were here.”
The keynote address was then given by Galis, who began by discussing his personal journey to working in mass atrocity prevention. Growing up in Romania, he said, “We were taught in school that all the tragic moments of humanity . . . were behind us,” admitting that in light of contemporary crises such as Syria and the Democratic Republic of Congo, “this hope is a bit baseless in today’s world.” As he explained, the prevalence of atrocities persuaded him and others of the need to move away from the idea that such catastrophes are accidents or anomalies, and instead to “try to understand where these mass atrocities come from.”
The Auschwitz Institute, Galis explained, was established to pursue this systematic approach to understanding genocide. In particular, he noted the historic dearth of governmental involvement in prevention, and identified this as the impetus behind AIPR founder and president Fred Schwartz’s motivation to establish the organization in 2005. The need to better understand the complexities and roots of such violence is exemplified in the Auschwitz Institute’s educational program for government officials, the Raphael Lemkin Seminar for Genocide Prevention, which centers on the process of genocide and an “inventory of what has been tried in recent times” to prevent such crimes. In this way, Galis explained, the goal has shifted from “[stopping] the worst from happening at the very last possible moment,” to developing the “restructuring of societies in a way that we see the signals of the bad to come, and we try to do something about that” right away.
The Auschwitz Institute further empowers its participants by offering “resources that they need to start their own” prevention programs domestically, as the organization firmly believes in assisting governments in any way possible to do their duty – “that being to protect and not to harm its citizens. We feel it cannot be more basic than this.” Currently, Galis stated that alumni of the Auschwitz Institute’s programs number more than 200 individuals from 60 different states. He concluded by noting the role that civil society plays in prevention, explaining that “most of the time, we prevent mass atrocities and genocide without even realizing it,” through education and our daily interactions with those in our communities.”
After giving his presentation, Galis was joined by Murekatete and Schienberg for a discussion moderated by Roberta Richin, a member of the Board of Directors Emeritus at MCW. Richin posed the initial round of questions, beginning with Galis and asking about challenges facing international organizations. Galis’s response included the need to educate the leadership of institutions on what an institution is expected to deliver and implement, as well as communication problems between organizations. He also stated that organizations like the Auschwitz Institute are “the beginning of the answer,” but that good intention requires money as well as words.
Richin’s question for Murekatete focused on the connection between the “small stuff,” such as schoolyard bullying, and the “big stuff,” specifically the genocide in Rwanda. Murekatete agreed that it is sometimes difficult for individuals to recognize the long-term process that culminates in genocide, and discussed in particular how what occurred in Rwanda was a result of years of escalating hostility, propaganda, and dehumanization.
Richin then opened the floor for questions from the audience. The first focused on seeking perpetrator justice years after atrocities have been committed, to which Murekatete stated simply: “There is no deadline to the suffering . . . the horrors . . . that [victims] endured,” and that efforts to find and hold killers accountable for their actions should reflect this limitlessness. The next was addressed to Schienberg, and asked him to talk about the hardest part of making Jacqueline’s Journey. Schienberg stated that he sought to depict “what [survivors] would want me to represent,” while at the same time respecting that “it’s a very personal thing that people experience,” and that we must be careful of not generalizing too much from story to story.
Another question, to which Schienberg also responded, centered on the role of the media. He discussed how media attention can be big, but that this doesn’t necessarily stop atrocities. In addition, he stated that “media still has an obligation, obviously . . . and [journalists] need to be persistent in trying to expose . . . the happenings in those countries where atrocities are being committed.” As the moderator Richin summarized at the discussion’s conclusion, “words have power; words have consequences” – and so does a lack of words.
Jeanne d’Arc Byaje, deputy permanent representative of Rwanda to the United Nations, spoke after the panelists, and offered a view of the progress Rwanda has made since the genocide. In particular, she noted the improvements the country has achieved in its justice sector reformation. She was followed by student Jessica Gatoni, who read two poems written in honor of Rwanda: one from the perspective of a survivor trying to guard the memory of those she had lost; the other about youth empowerment and the concept of agaciro, which means “dignity” in Kinyarwanda.
Murekatete closed the event with words she had echoed throughout the afternoon: “goals and dreams.” Indeed, it is this potential that was lost during the genocide, and it is this same potential that Murekatete and others hope to help cultivate in the descendants of survivors, as well as in all individuals in the generations to come. This cultivation, however, cannot be done from the sidelines. It must occur through the work of those actively committed to preventing opportunities for individuals, who would otherwise attempt to steal or destroy these dreams, from becoming a prominent voice in their society. As Galis eloquently stated earlier, “When we see a problem and look away, we are to a certain extent supporting the roots of evil.”
Photo: Alex Zucker
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:
- Creation of Atrocities Prevention Board, “an interagency body that generates strategy and coordinates various agencies’ atrocity prevention work.”
- 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.
- Leveraging innovative technologies to identify and respond to mass atrocities.
- Redoubling efforts to work with women to attain information about sexual and gender-based violence, particularly in “at-risk” regions.
- Perpetrators of genocide and mass atrocities to be pressured through coercive measures and clearly warned that they “will be held accountable.”
- 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.”
Attention, GenPrev fans! Next week is your lucky week if you live in New York, as there are five events related to GenPrev happening over three consecutive days.
First and foremost (from our point of view) is a talk titled “What Does It Mean to Prevent Genocide?” by Auschwitz Institute executive director Tibi Galis (pictured here), at 6:15 p.m., Tuesday, June 12, at the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs. Tibi’s talk will emphasize that, although increasingly conflated and confused, genocide prevention and humanitarian intervention are two different things. He will then enter into conversation with Kyle Matthews of the Will to Intervene project. To attend the event in person, register by sending an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Admission is $25. Otherwise you can watch the live webcast here.
Also on Tuesday, June 12, at 4:30 p.m, is a reception for civil society organizations engaged in the Responsibility to Protect, at the office of the International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect (708 Third Avenue, 24th floor):
In preparation for the informal dialogue in the General Assembly on response measures available under the Third Pillar of the Responsibility to Protect, the International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect (ICRtoP) invites you to attend an informal reception with civil society colleagues on the Responsibility to Protect. This reception is being held in cooperation with New York–based ICRtoP member, Global Action to Prevent War (GAPW).
The reception will feature a short talk by Mr. Hermann Hokou, legal scholar and activist from Côte d’Ivoire, who will discuss the election violence of 2010–11, how the conflict was handled by the international community and what we can learn in addressing other crises. Also in attendance will be NGO colleagues from Brazil, Belgium, Armenia, Nigeria, Venezuela, Romania and Canada, in town next week to share the experiences of their organizations, working to prevent genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing, as well as reflect on their efforts to entrench RtoP at the national and regional levels.
The third event on Tuesday, June 12, is a discussion on “Preventing War, Violence and Genocide: Critical New Approaches to Making Prevention Work,” at 1 p.m. at the Church Center for the United Nations (777 UN Plaza at 44th Street, 2nd floor). Guest speaker Kai Brand-Jacobsen, director of the Department of Peace Operations at the Peace Action Training and Research Institute of Romania, will address the following:
War, armed violence, genocide and mass atrocity have devastating impacts – costing the lives of hundreds of thousands of civilians every year, destroying economic and human development and security, and devastating lives and societies. Yet major steps have been taken to advance the prevention of violence and armed conflict. This talk will review critical breakthroughs and practical experiences in the prevention of war, violence and genocide. Combining on the ground experience and practical evidence with critical breakthroughs in peacebuilding and prevention, this event will challenge and inspire policy makers, practitioners, diplomats, politicians, analysts, experts and all participants, and look practically at how to make prevention work.
Finally, on Monday, June 11, and Wednesday, June 13, the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung will be presenting Global Civil Society Perspectives on the Responsibility to Protect:
FES New York supports a series of meetings organized by Global Action to Prevent War (GAPW) and its partners from civil society organizations from various continents on the emerging norm of the “Responsibility to Protect.” The discussions on June 11 will address how various UN Mandates can contribute to prevention, and reflect on balanced and robust responses to the threat of mass atrocities. On June 13, special attention will be given to the proposal for a United Nations Emergency Peace Service (UNEPS).
We hope you can make some or all of these events. If not, be sure to stay tuned for recaps.
To the applause of genocide prevention organizations nationwide, President Barack Obama today issued a study directive for the establishment of an Atrocities Prevention Board, whose sole duty will be the development of policy aimed at preventing and responding to genocide and mass atrocities.
This is a milestone achievement, as until now the United States has lacked effective interagency protocols for prevention and response.
Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Reconciliation executive director Tibi Galis praised the Obama administration for recognizing the need for a “whole-of-government approach to engaging ‘early, proactively, and decisively.’ ”
The directive, rather than spelling out details, offers an outline of the new body’s duties. Stressing the need for an overarching, “whole of government” approach, the president ordered the development of an interagency protocol identifying the government agencies that will contribute to the board’s work.
Many of the directive’s provisions are heavily influenced by the recommendations of the Genocide Prevention Task Force (GPTF), formed to discuss and develop policy recommendations for the U.S. government. The 2008 report issued by the GPTF argued that genocide and mass atrocities “threaten core U.S. national interests.” President Obama, in his directive today, used similar language, positing prevention as a “core national security interest.”
The GPTF report called for early warning systems, attempts to prevent escalation of violence once begun or imminent, and long-term prevention initiatives. While Obama’s directive remained mainly in the realm of broad intentions, its framework seemed to echo the suggestions of the GPTF report.
The presidential initiative received an avalanche of praise from U.S. organizations working to prevent genocide and other atrocity crimes.
“Finally, there is a concrete effort to put that rhetoric into action and create a standing prevention structure within the U.S. government,” Human Rights First president Elisa Massimino said.
Madeleine Albright and William Cohen, cochairs of the GPTF, said the project “if fully implemented should eventually save countless lives.”
The United States Institute for Peace, a co-convener of the GPTF (along with the American Academy of Diplomacy and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum), said it “welcome[d] the announcement” as a “needed step forward.”
The study directive gives the National Security Advisor 120 days to “develop and recommend the membership, mandate, structure, operational protocols, authorities, and support necessary for the Atrocities Prevention Board to coordinate and develop atrocity prevention and response policy.”
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.
The Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Reconciliation is proud to announce that on April 29, 2011, AIPR Executive Director Tibi Galis and Deputy Consul General of the German Permanent Mission to the United Nations Oliver Schnakenberg signed an agreement in which the German Federal Government pledged to provide funding for AIPR’s 2011 Raphael Lemkin Seminar for Genocide Prevention. Germany’s support for genocide prevention will provide four government officials the opportunity to participate in the upcoming seminar. AIPR would like to express its thanks to the German Mission and Federal Government for helping to spread the mission of genocide prevention and aiding to make the goal of “Never Again” a reality.
In other genocide prevention news, the Madariaga College of Europe Foundation (MCF) and the Folke Bernadotte Academy (FBA), with the support of the Hungarian Presidency of the European Union and the cooperation of the European External Action Service and the European Peacebuilding Liaison Office, are organizing a workshop called Prevention of Genocide and Mass Atrocities, May 12 and 13 in Brussels. Representatives from many international organizations, the European institutions, NGOs and experts in the field will gather next week to discuss the topic of genocide prevention. This event, part of a larger MCF-FBA program called “Building coherence, skills and synergies in conflict prevention,” is aimed at promoting deeper interaction among “international representatives” in order to create a stronger forum for dialogue on conflict prevention, as well as a space for reflection on the challenges facing policymakers in the realm of preventing genocide and mass atrocities.