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In this edition of the Auschwitz Institute podcast, Jared Knoll speaks to Mickey Jackson, Student Director of STAND, the student-led movement to end mass atrocities. Jackson has been part of the movement since 2008, when he served as a high school outreach coordinator.
Welcome. I’m Jared Knoll with the Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Reconciliation. With me today is Mickey Jackson, director of a student-led movement called STAND, which uses advocacy, lobbying, and other strategies to prevent and mitigate mass atrocities. Hello, Mickey. Good to have you here with us.
Good to be here.
Can you start by telling me a little bit about what STAND does and why it’s entirely student-led?
Sure. I mean what you just said in your introduction pretty much captures it. Basically, STAND is a student-run organization that seeks to build permanent anti-genocide constituencies on campus and in communities around the country. What we’re most interested in is really empowering students to take ownership of their advocacy, because we feel that by doing that we not only give students something to do while they’re in high school or while they’re in college, but we help develop them into lifelong leaders.
So we see ourselves not only as participating in anti-genocide advocacy efforts in the here and now, but we also see ourselves as developing the next generation of human rights policymakers, human rights organizers, thought leaders, and so forth. That’s why we consider it to be so important that we are student-led. Because obviously the best way of developing into a leader is to be a leader. So we feel that by giving students ownership of anti-genocide advocacy — not only at the local level, but at the national level as well — we’re helping to create that new generation of informed, responsible human rights advocates.
Are you optimistic from that, that there is a possibility maybe one day, maybe one day soon, that a really significant measure of U.S. national security interests can be shifted toward international human security interests instead?
I am optimistic, because I think over the last couple years we’ve seen that happening. We’ve seen the Obama administration explicitly identify atrocities prevention as a core national security interest of the United States, and I think that language is very important: that it’s not just a core moral imperative or a core humanitarian imperative — it’s the notion that it is actually a core national security interest of the United States. And that’s very important because I think we would all agree that while moral considerations are nice and humanitarian considerations are nice, when it comes to foreign policy governments ultimately act on the basis of perceived national security interests. So that to me is a reason to be optimistic. One of the challenges that I think will arise is making sure that that continues after this administration leaves.
I think that’s a very pragmatic and grounded approach to it. There’s been some serious criticism recently of the American anti-atrocity movements over the past few years, such as former activist Rebecca Hamilton’s critique of Save Darfur. How do you measure success in the light of these sorts of reactions?
Two things to that. One of the things that I’ve always found admirable in the students who are involved in STAND’s constituency is that they are very open to criticism, and in fact often they’re the ones doing the criticizing, and holding not only STAND as a national organization, but also I would argue holding STAND and the movement accountable. And I think what you see in STAND’s constituency is a willingness to question past approaches, a willingness to think critically about how successful we have been as a movement. So I think there’s very much the attitude that we shouldn’t get defensive in the face of criticism. We should listen to it, and we should try to amend our approach accordingly.
In terms of how we measure success, in one sense you can measure success very mechanistically in terms of the policy changes that the movement brings about. I think you could make the argument that the creation of the Atrocities Prevention Board represents a discrete success of the movement. The progression over the past 10 years of the creation of a constituency that actually cares about atrocities prevention, and the recognition among policymakers that that constituency exists. We try to take a longer view as well, and recognize that in many ways our impact, at least if we do our jobs right, we hope that our impact will ultimately be in the leaders that we develop. Our impact, ideally, 20 years down the line, will be the creation of this next generation of informed, responsible human rights advocates and policymakers.
Do you think that — based on some of these criticisms, where the American anti-atrocity movements fall short — do you think that’s more due to a problem with public conviction, or do you see it more as a problem with the state’s ability to exert influence globally, like has been suggested?
You know, I think the obvious answer is that it’s some combination of both. I do think over the past couple years — between the fact that the financial crisis led to more of a focus on domestic issues, as well as the belief that our interventions, so to speak, in Iraq and Afghanistan largely failed, or at least can’t really be seen as unambiguous successes — I do think that sort of led to a skepticism among the broader public about this notion of atrocities prevention, and about the notion that the United States can or should exercise leverage to end mass atrocities, so I do think that’s part of it.
And I also think that the inability of the United States, and its Western allies in particular, to exert influence in certain conflict situations certainly plays a role in that as well. But there are things that the United States can do. The fact that we can’t do everything doesn’t mean that we can’t do something. And our attitude is, where there do exist opportunities for the United States to exercise a positive influence in ongoing mass atrocity situations, that there needs to be a constituency that’s pressuring our elected officials to take those steps.
Is it possible for movements like this, like yours, to ever be counterproductive? The Kony 2012, for example, anti-atrocity movement resulted in negative outcries, even in Uganda and east Africa. Is that an isolated incident, or is this something you need to be mindful of and concerned about?
It’s absolutely something that we need to be concerned about. I mean that’s — if we talk about responsible advocacy, and if we talk about wanting our advocacy to be effective — obviously it’s extremely important to be self-critical in that way, and to really think about whether what we’re asking for could ultimately end up having negative ramifications. I think Kony 2012 is sort of the go-to example for that, and I think Kony 2012 certainly raised — not only in STAND, but in human rights movements — I think it contributed to raising the consciousness among human rights organizers and activists about the need to be self-reflective in that way. So I absolutely do think it’s possible, and I think it’s something that we would always need to be careful of.
What message does STAND want to send to students who aren’t involved, who maybe don’t think that they have time, or don’t see how what happens on the other side of the world can affect their lives?
As far as the second question, about how it affects their lives, I mean, the simple answer to that is, in a lot of cases it doesn’t. I’m not going to pretend that what’s happening in the eastern DRC or what’s happening in Syria has much of a direct impact on the life of a typical American college student. But I would also say that ours is a generation that recognizes that it’s becoming a smaller world, and that recognizes that in the past the international community has failed to respond appropriately to morally atrocious situations. And among the students that I talk to — even those who don’t think that it affects their lives, or even those who don’t feel that they necessarily have a whole lot of time to devote to anti-genocide advocacy — it’s not a difficult argument to convince students that the pattern of failed responses to mass atrocities should not be continued.
If you think that it’s a problem that 800,000 people died in Rwanda without any kind of international response, then you should be interested in our movement, even if it doesn’t directly affect your life. No matter how much time you have to give, there’s some way for you to plug into a movement, even if it’s just picking up the phone and calling your congressional office. Those things seem small, but when they’re multiplied together they can lead to the types of policy changes that we want to see. And it can ultimately lead to at least progress toward that ideal of making “never again” a reality.
Some impactful words for the youth coming up today. Thank you so much, Mickey, for joining me today, and sharing what you’re all about.
You’re very welcome. Thanks for having me.
Photo: STAND website.
In recognition of Genocide Prevention Month, the Permanent Mission of the Czech Republic to the UN and United to End Genocide co-hosted a panel discussion on Monday with Magid Kabash of Sudan, Kambale Musavuli of the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Stephen Lamony of Uganda.
The panel, held at the Bohemian National Hall in Manhattan, discussed the role of the International Criminal Court, arrest warrants, and the importance of justice for victims of atrocity crimes. Discussants drove home the point that ending the culture of impunity by holding perpetrators accountable sets an important example for would-be leaders and backers of mass atrocities.
Tiina Intelmann, Ambassador of Estonia and President of the Assembly of State Parties to the Rome Statute of the ICC, said in her opening remarks that the global community must cooperate to end the culture of impunity. She hailed both the KONY 2012 campaign and the ICC’s recent conviction of former Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga Dyilo as positive steps toward the ultimate goal of preventing mass atrocities.
Staci Alziebler-Perkins, NYC Genocide Prevention Coalition Convener and 2011 Carl Wilkens Fellow, shared the story of how she became an activist and said the ICC had many cases it should give more focus to, but the number of cases has been on the rise while funding has been decreasing.
Speaking in place of Hawa Abdallah Salih, who was ill and could not attend, Magid Kabash, a refugee and activist from Sudan with the Nuba Mountains International Association, gave the audience a firsthand account of the atrocities occuring in that region and implored the international community to act to protect the Nuba people from the Sudanese government.
The focus of the discussion, however, fell heavily on the atrocities, past and present, in the Congo. Kambale Musavuli of the Democratic Republic of Congo, human rights activist and national spokesperson for the Friends of the Congo, said he hoped “the ICC and international bodies support the UN Mapping Report [documenting “the most serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law committed within the territory of the DRC between March 1993 and June 2003”] and the ICJ ruling as it is an attempt to end the culture of impunity, to provide justice for the victims and create a framework for accountability for mass crimes committed and still being committed in the Congo.”
Stephen Lamony of Uganda, a human rights and victim’s rights advocate, as well as Situations Adviser & Outreach Liaison for Africa at the Coalition for the International Criminal Court, discussed the importance of arrest warrants.
Finally, in a pre-recorded video address, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, Prosecutor for the ICC, updated the audience on the court’s activity and urged them to give maximum exposure to ICC cases.
Earlier this week, Genocide Watch and the Genocide Prevention Advisory Network (GPAN) put out a list and map of countries at risk of genocide, politicide, or mass atrocities in 2012. Categorized as current massacres, potential massacres, or polarization, a majority of the countries are in the Middle East and Africa. Current massacres are taking place in DR Congo, Sudan, Eastern Congo, Uganda, Syria, Somalia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, North Korea, Myanmar, and Ethiopia. According to GPAN, these countries are “at the mass killing stage. They have active genocides, recurring genocidal massacres, or ongoing politicides. They are erupting.” The groups and factions comprising the victims and killers include government supporters or protesters, militias, religious and ethnic groups, armies, and terrorist organizations. Which side they fall on varies by region.
In their article, How Mass Atrocities End: An Evidence-Based Counter-Narrative, Alex de Waal, Jens Meierhenrich, and Bridget Conley-Zilkic examine the narrative frameworks that inform today’s agenda of “protection of civilians” in conflict:
1. A teleological assumption that the occurrence of attacks against civilians will, unless halted or deterred from outside, inevitably escalate towards genocide.
2. An epistemological assumption that privileges coercive military operations conducted on humanitarian grounds by international forces.
3. An ethical imperative based on the above teleology and epistemology that forecloses the historical and political discussions of how mass atrocities actually end.
Using comparative evidence from a variety of cases, beginning with the Holocaust and continuing through Libya, they then provide “a counter narrative to the dominant civilian protection agenda by returning to the historical record of how mass atrocities end.”
As to the first point, Jens Meierhenrich (pictured above) has put forth a general framework for studying genocide termination that contests this teleology. He argues for separating genocidal acts, campaigns, and regimes to better distinguish between different endings and, significantly, how each informs different policy options. In addressing the aforementioned epistemological assumption, the authors divide the ending of mass atrocities into five categories: 1) violence halted by the perpetrators once goals are met; 2) elite dissension or exhaustion within the perpetrator regime; 3) victims of violence flee or otherwise resist; 4) interventions waged by interested outside parties; or 5) humanitarian intervention.
Finally, questioning the ethical imperative, the authors relate a question that they deem to have been inadequately engaged by policy experts and researchers alike: How does one recognize when genocide or mass atrocities end? As they explain, “This question, let alone the equally, if not more complicated, question of how such violence ends has been caught up in the normative assumption about how they ought to end.”
While an optimal ending of mass atrocities is outlined as one in which vulnerable civilians are rescued, perpetrators are punished, and the state is justly reconstructed to address the conditions that enabled violence to occur, actual endings can rarely be described as optimal. But it is important to pay attention to what forces have played a tangible role in ending violence in order to garner a better understanding of how to interact with complex situations, what tools might achieve which exact goals, and a realistic expectation in terms of ending mass atrocities when this objective is obscured by competing agendas.
The authors describe some endings as being “the successful completion of a genocidal campaign, called off when the perpetrator regime is consolidated or when the political landscape alters such that the political rationale for mass violence against civilians is reduced. Other endings occur when the genocidal regime is removed from power, through successful resistance or invasion, or is fought to a standstill . . . Some endings are simply respite—a gap between genocidal campaigns conducted by a regime with an intact apparatus of mass violence.”
The article concludes by contending that the current undertaking of preventing genocide seeks to go beyond this singular aim to decisively resolve conflict and achieve transitional justice. Instead of the sole and default response of establishing a new regime “with ethical credentials commensurate with the horror that preceded it,” the authors’ approach “[. . .] eschews arguing from ‘ought’ to ‘is,’ and instead addresses the complexities of real politics and develops a rich comparative evidence base.” It seeks practical responses in the details of particular circumstances as opposed to deriving analysis and policy from universals that stem from moral impulses. Ultimately, such an approach should result in more effective prevention policymaking and reactions.
In September 2005, three mass graves were discovered in Rutshuru, in North Kivu province of eastern Congo. Two years later this discovery led to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and then UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan initiating a mapping exercise to investigate atrocities committed in the country between 1993 and 2003. The concluding report (click here for an interview with one of the report’s authors, Jason Stearns) was published in October 2010. Now, one year later, Human Rights Watch is calling on governments the world over to bring the perpetrators of the atrocities to justice.
Addressing the most serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law in Congo between March 1993 and June 2003, the mapping report describes the role of all responsible Congolese and foreign parties, including military or armed groups from Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi, and Angola. The Congolese government drafted a law to create a specialized mixed court, comprised of both international and domestic staff, but the Congolese senate rejected the proposal, despite support from Congolese civil society groups. Meanwhile, the governments of the other named African nations, as well as the UN, have failed to take decisive action.
Human Rights Watch has urged the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Secretary-General to confer with the Congolese government, as well as the other governments named in the report and international legal experts, about how to ensure accountability for the crimes. Human Rights Watch is also calling on UN member states to support the Congolese government, financially and politically, in setting up mechanisms to try those responsible for the crimes.
In November 2010, the International Peace Institute (IPI) published a report by I. William Zartman titled “Preventing Identity Conflicts Leading to Genocide and Mass Killings.” Published in cooperation with the Office of the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide at the United Nations, the paper discusses stages in the prevention of identity conflicts and the tools available for the international community to use. Read it here.
In “Putting Complementarity into Practice: Domestic Justice for International Crimes in DRC, Uganda, and Kenya,” published by the Open Society Foundations, Eric A. White argues that the “principle of complementarity, under the Rome Statute, not only sets forth a key test for admissibility of cases in The Hague; it also places a heavy burden on individual states to help achieve the Rome Statute’s overarching goal: ending impunity for grave atrocities.”