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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
In this edition of the Auschwitz Institute podcast, Jared Knoll speaks with Andrew Feinstein, former South African MP for the anti-apartheid African National Congress, and a writer, speaker, critic and campaigner in the effort to better regulate the global arms trade. His most recent book, The Shadow World, looks at the connections between political corruption, the arms trade, and the atrocities that result. His work is especially relevant right now, as the UN is on the verge of adopting the first ever international arms trade treaty.
Welcome. I’m Jared Knoll for the Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Reconciliation. On Thursday, the United Nations began the process of adopting the first international treaty to regulate the global arms trade, a $70 billion business. It was blocked by Iran, Syria and North Korea, who complained the treaty failed to ban sales to rebel groups, and the General Assembly has plans to put the draft to a vote on Tuesday. What isn’t talked about much is how political corruption in wealthy, developed countries may be the most important factor involved, even half a world away from the mass atrocities it can lead to.
Joining me to speak on the complex issues and implications involved in the international arms trade, and where it all originates from, is Andrew Feinstein. He’s the founding co-director of Corruption Watch in London, and a former South African parliament member for the African National Congress. They’re the political party born out of the anti-apartheid movement; he was known as “Mr. Clean” when he was with them. He’s also a prolific author, speaker and critic on government corruption and the transnational arms trade. Hello, Andrew. So good to have you with us today.
Hi, Jared. Great to be with you.
You have a tendency to tackle some pretty bold intellectual targets — government corruption, illegal arms trading, backroom bribery — pretty large, systemic issues. What has led you to take these “big” approaches?
Well, I think that what struck me while a member of parliament in South Africa, was that the trade in weapons has the ability to have effects not just on conflicts, on their brutality, sometimes their longevity — but also on issues of governance and the rule of law, in both buying and selling countries. And having experienced this first hand in a very young democracy like South Africa, just four years after our first democratic elections, I became interested in how this manifests globally, and was shocked to discover that South Africa was just one of countless examples of the iniquitous impact of the global trade in arms. But rather than looking at isolated cases, it’s really the way in which the trade works on a systemic basis that’s really important. So that meant looking at issues like the very highest levels of governance, global financial systems and money laundering, and how they work. So certainly not by choice, Jared, but by necessity.
What do you think the implications of that kind of approach can have for finding solutions and finding options for prevention?
I think the two approaches need to be married, to find solutions and to look at issues of prevention. The first is the systemic picture. I don’t think one can actually develop meaningful solutions without an understanding of how these things work, perhaps at the most exalted level, if one can call it that — the systems of governance, the systems of international trade. But at the same time the reality is that any particular circumstance will have a very unique context. So one has to look at both of those aspects to be able to develop solutions that could be meaningful and practical on the ground.
What have you found to be the relationship between government corruption, or the seeds of government corruption, the international arms trade, and the occurrence of mass atrocities?
Let’s deal with each of those, very quickly, on their own. The first is, in terms of levels of government corruption, one needs to understand the extraordinary figures that were extrapolated from information gleaned by a wonderful researcher called Joe Roeber, from national treasuries and intelligence agencies of the world’s most powerful nations. He calculated that with figures up to the end of 2003, the arms trade accounted for around 40 percent of all corruption, in all global trade. Which is an astonishing figure, and if one looks, for instance, at the world’s biggest arms deal to date — between the United Kingdom and Saudi Arabia, a deal worth 43 billion British pounds — British police have estimated that 6 billion pounds of bribes were paid on that deal alone. And this included to some incredibly powerful individuals. So the scale of the bribery and corruption is massive. Those impacts, as I have mentioned, are not just on the exchequers of those countries, but on the way they’re governed and on the rule of law, because the corruption leads to decisions that are often not in the national interest, or even in the best defense interests of the buying country. So that’s the one dimension of it.
The second dimension, how does this feed into mass atrocities? Well, the other characteristic of the global arms trade that makes it fairly unique in world trade, is that everything that happens in the trade takes place behind a veil of national security-imposed secrecy. So even when there is criminal conduct or illegal conduct taking place, it is hidden from us, the public. I have made I don’t know how many hundreds of thousands of freedom-of-information requests around the world, and I never get any information from them because I’m always told that the matters fall under national security. So that secrecy allows extraordinary things to happen. Together with an academic from the University of British Columbia, I’ve managed to identify 502 violations of UN arms embargoes since they were introduced. Two of those have led to any legal action of any sort. One led to a conviction.
So, taking the corruption, taking the secrecy, this means that things can happen in the trade in weapons that we know nothing about, that can enable the commission and execution of mass atrocities and crimes against humanity. Let me give you just one example. You know, when we think of the tragedy of the Rwandan genocide, people have the sense of crazed citizens in a state, a mental state, that is inexplicable to us. Running around and murdering their fellow countrymen with machetes. The reality is far more complex than that. The reality is that for many years leading up to the genocide, the then-regime in Rwanda engaged in a massive, massive process of weaponizing and militarizing one ethnic group in the society, against all sorts of legal sanctions. But this weaponization — which led from Rwanda being a complete minnow in the African arms trade to, over a period of a couple of years, being amongst the highest spenders on weaponry — this took place clandestinely, but with the active facilitation of the governments of France, South Africa, and Egypt, amongst others, with the intimate involvement of large arms companies and individual arms dealers. And this happened in spite of arms embargoes, in spite of attempts to police what was going on in Rwanda. So the nature of the arms trade directly impacts the way in which situations or conflicts can be weaponized that increase the likelihood of those conflicts leading to mass atrocities or crimes against humanity.
So then with these things coming up from every aspect, from every angle — the individuals in the buying country, the systemic issue between countries, and the complete lack of any enforceable mechanisms for the selling countries — it sounds like the only way to tackle this is from a systemic approach, from that large-scale angle that you take it. How do we start to make headway with such a prolific situation?
The key at a systemic level is clearly regulation. Because the reality as we sit here today, and we are just a few days away from the United Nations trying to agree an international arms trade treaty, a process that has been fraught with difficulty because of a lack of political will amongst the biggest players in the arms trade to actually change the current regulatory regime, where the global trade in bananas is more highly regulated than the trade in weapons. So yes, the solution is dependent on creating a far tougher, strongly enforced regulatory regime for weapons of all kind, for ammunition of all kind. Because we’re fortunate in that advances in technology, which have as an unfortunate by-product made killing easier, also have the by-product of making the tracking of weaponry and ammunition far easier. So at not much additional cost, we could actually be tracking every single piece of ammunition, let alone every piece of weaponry, and where it is in the world at any time. What is lacking at this point is the political will to say, “This is what we have to do, every country has to do this, and the sanctions for not doing so are so profound that it will happen.” But the lead on that has to be taken by the biggest players in the weapons trade, bearing in mind that the United States of America currently buys and sells almost as much weaponry and ammunition as the rest of the world combined.
And before people get too depressed, let me repeat again — and this is really based on something that the American anthropologist Margaret Mead said many decades ago — it is small groups of committed, thoughtful citizens who change history. Never doubt that that is the case, and that it has always been so. So while the challenges are huge, I do believe that if enough people are prepared to engage on this issue, it is possible — and I say this as a former politician myself — it is possible to change political will. And on this issue that’s what we have to do.
Well, I’m inspired. I hope you’ll keep inspiring people with that very active approach to making people understand that they have the ability to effect some of that momentum.
Thanks, Jared. Thanks very much for your time in doing this.
In this edition of the Auschwitz Institute podcast, Jared Knoll speaks with Dr. Ekkehard Strauss, who has published extensively on protection of minorities, prevention of human rights violations, post-conflict peacebuilding, and human rights responses to mass atrocities. Strauss has been an instructor at the Auschwitz Institute’s Raphael Lemkin Seminar for Genocide Prevention, and was a member of the Task Force on the EU Prevention of Mass Atrocities, which earlier this month released a report assessing Europe’s capabilities to respond to threats of genocide and other mass atrocities.
Welcome, I’m Jared Knoll for the Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Reconciliation. In late 2011 the Budapest Centre for the International Prevention of Genocide and Mass Atrocities established the Task Force on the EU Prevention of Mass Atrocities, to look at Europe’s capabilities to respond to threats of mass killings and genocide. They released a report a few weeks ago, which lists four core problems for the capacity to prevent, including issues with coordination and policymaking, and six recommendations to strengthen capabilities, like improving cooperation with other actors and applying a prevention mindset to trade and development policies.
Speaking with me today is a member of that task force, Dr. Ekkehard Strauss. He has worked with the OSCE in Bosnia-Herzegovina, served under the UN High Commissioner, and established himself as a mainstay in the development of peacebuilding, Responsibility to Protect, and atrocity prevention practices. He is currently working as a consultant and researcher in Rabat, Morocco. Hello, Dr. Strauss. Thank you for being here today.
Thank you very much.
Could you start by telling us about the Task Force on the EU Prevention of Mass Atrocities: where the idea came from, what its purpose is, who is on it, and how they arrived at their list of recommendations?
The idea of reviewing mass atrocity prevention capacities of the European Union really came at the time when the U.S. task force started to review the U.S. capacities. And there were different individuals and organizations who tried to convince them to actually undertake a similar exercise. People like David Hamburg, for instance, who was chairing the UN secretary-general’s advisory board on genocide prevention; the Budapest Centre, which was an initiative at that time; the Special Adviser on Prevention of Genocide; and other people. Unfortunately, none of us succeeded in convincing the European Union. So we basically took this initiative forward as a citizen initiative and initiated a process where we invited 12 people with very different experiences, from different European countries, to form a task force and to review these capacities using a methodology which was mixed. First, by a desk review of what is out there on reviews of EU capacity to react to conflict, violence and crisis. And the content you find in the report is basically an analysis of this task force, of the interviews, plus our own experience in crisis situations, and with different European institutions, and what is the state of play in the discussions on genocide prevention today.
How did you personally get involved in atrocity prevention? Can you tell us a little bit about your start in this?
I think one very important part for me was, while I was still undertaking my law studies, to start the basis of an internship with the UN and there being exposed to what it really means to be a victim of systematic violence and state-sponsored, large-scale violence. For me, this was a different dimension to the work on human rights violations due to individuals, due to exceptional situations, and so on. This is serious as well, it’s important to work on it from a human rights perspective, but for me, this other dimension, that states really systematically get after their own people, was like a new encounter. So I wrote a doctorate thesis on prevention of human rights violations, looking at legal standards and trying to look at how they are not reflected in the different institutions we were in the process of creating in the early ’90s, the international ad hoc tribunals and so on. We were basically hoping that some of them would have a preventive effect. And then I had the great opportunity of somehow field-testing many of the things I had worked on in Bosnia immediately after the war, and I moved on to Kosovo and Serbia while the crisis was unfolding there. Then in 2004 I had the great chance to work with Juan Méndez and support him in establishing the Office of the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide. And this was somehow the coming full-round from my different theoretical and field experience to do something that I still find very fulfilling.
And how did you become involved with the Auschwitz Institute?
The Auschwitz Institute, actually Fred Schwartz came to see Juan Méndez, I think back in 2004 or 2005. And he presented his idea of having trainings in Auschwitz. And I think we were — at the beginning, after the first meeting — I think we were a little bit skeptical among ourselves whether this is something that would work and whether people wouldn’t just go home with a lot of overwhelming impressions about the Holocaust, an almost perfect system of destroying people that you are confronted with when you visit Auschwitz. Then when this idea evolved, and we got also our own experience with training of government officials, I think we got more and more fascinated by the idea. And I think it’s a fascinating experience. I think the concept has proven that our skepticism was unfounded. I think it’s a very good concept to actually have people making the transition from looking at the Holocaust, experiencing Auschwitz, experiencing being there and being exposed to this, and going through an experience where you think, “This is exceptional and it cannot happen anywhere else,” to then slowly making the experience of “No, it could happen somewhere else. No, these are average people who committed it. Yes, there was a lot of preparation, ideology, and anti-Semitism and so on that existed,” but I think that for me, this experience from an observer, and then from a teacher’s point of view, was fascinating how it worked for the people who participated.
Do you find yourself optimistic, based upon your experiences doing that and based upon your experiences in assessing the United Nations to stop genocide and mass atrocities, do you find yourself optimistic for the future?
I do. I mean, I’m very optimistic. But I have to say that I’m not optimistic that there will be a world free of genocide. From working on this for quite some time and having visited many of the countries which experience genocide, I think each time and each century has its own genocides, and we might witness genocides while we speak and we will only find out in a couple of years based on legal findings and so on, and say, “Okay, Darfur was a genocide,” and so on. So I’m not optimistic that we will prevent all of them, but I think we can be much better in detecting signs very early and taking them seriously, and intervening at a point where we still do not have these exceptional numbers of victims. I don’t think that long-term prevention will really work in all of the cases. We can educate and train and establish institutions and so on, and this will hopefully do a lot of good with regard to human rights. It might make it more difficult to convince people to participate in systematic killings of particular groups, but for each of those you find historic examples where they had the same and they had a genocide nevertheless. But I think by making mass atrocities something that is possible, something that is a plausible conclusion to developments on the ground, I think we will contribute to preventing, hopefully, more of these cases. But still I think there are genocides in the making that we don’t even know about. There are situations that we will not capture with our early warning methodology, but nevertheless we should continue and learn, and I’m very optimistic that we get better every day and every month.
Well, I hope the recommendations that you and the task force have given will be a shot in the arm toward that improvement. Thank you very much for talking to me.
Thank you very much—and I’m so glad it finally worked out.
“When Hateful Speech Is Transformed Into Hateful Deeds”:
Examining Freedom of Speech, Hate Speech, and Incitement to Genocide
Human rights simultaneously create duties and establish a basis for claims – that is, they emphasize the responsibility that one entity, be it state or individual, has towards another entity, as well as how an individual might be able to enforce another entity’s guarantee of a particular provision. Given the wide spectrum of rights that have been codified in such documents as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Economic and Social Rights, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, one right can, under certain circumstances, restrict the complete fulfillment of an obligation provided under another right, by virtue of what each is attempting to protect. One example of this tension is the debate between the right to freedom of expression and the right to be free of attacks on one’s own rights and reputation that can potentially result from inflammatory speech.
When it comes to genocide prevention, the most important component of this debate is how to balance freedom of expression with speech that falls under the category of “direct and public incitement to genocide,” a crime listed under Article III of the Genocide Convention. Indeed, individuals like Julius Streicher of Germany, as well as Hassan Ngeze, Ferdinand Nahimana, and Jean-Bosco Barayagwiza of Rwanda, have all been convicted for public incitement to genocide. Despite these court cases, however, the issue of whether or not something qualifies as incitement remains open to interpretation and context. Indeed, not all inflammatory speech can or should be considered incitement, as freedom of expression is a necessary cornerstone of democracy. As the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) states on its website, “incitement to commit genocide [requires] a calling on the audience (be they listeners or readers) to take action of some kind. Absent such a call, inflammatory language may qualify as hate speech but does not constitute incitement.”
To further elucidate the distinction between these two sets of rights, as well as to elaborate on efforts being made to combat incitement, the USHMM, in conjunction with the United Nations Office on Genocide Prevention and the Responsibility to Protect and the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression, held a panel discussion February 5 titled “Hate Speech and Incitement to Genocide.”
After opening remarks by Susan Bloomfield, director of the USHMM, five panelists guided by moderator Mike Abramowitz, director of the Center for the Prevention of Genocide, each spoke briefly on their area of expertise and then responded to questions posed by Abramowitz himself.
The first speaker tasked with answering Bloomfield’s question – “How we can counter dissemination of inflammatory speech while protecting the right to free expression?” – was the ambassador of Norway to the United States, Wegger Strømmen, who began by commenting on his personal introduction to human rights in the 1970s, which consisted of joining Amnesty International as an activist, accompanied by other young people who “thought we were going to change the world significantly.” Acknowledging that “we have a much more complex reality” today, particularly in regards to speech, as “more people have access to a microphone” than they used to, Strømmen offered this as a remedy to the struggle for balance between freedom of speech and avoiding incitement: “We should remember that the same tools that can be used to . . . cause incitement to violence can also be used to monitor them, to understand them.” In other words, he stated that “rational people” should be able to counter extremists with preventive measures that emerge from the same tools and tactics associated with incitement.
Strømmen was followed by Adama Dieng, the UN special adviser on prevention of genocide. Dieng pointed to preparations for the recently held Kenyan elections, indicating that “there have been numerous initiatives to develop ways to . . . counter the kind of hate speech that contributed to the incitement of that violence, in order to prevent a recurrence this time around.” Additionally, he mentioned that the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has held a series of expert workshops that led to the “identification of three main points to be considered when seeking to strengthen national and international efforts to curb incitement.”
First, the OHCHR acknowledged that Article 20(2) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which states that “any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence shall be prohibited by law,” should only be invoked for exceptional or extraordinary circumstances. Second, Dieng stressed the importance of “acknowledging that the human sentiment of hatred and discrimination go deeper than the offenses of discrimination, hate crimes and incitement. We must recognize the limits of legislation to combat hate speech and incitement. We need to develop a multilayered approach to fight the root causes of hate speech, racism, and discrimination.” In this spirit, he indicated the role of the promotion of human rights and tolerance, though he hesitated to place all is faith in the latter, saying that “when we tolerate someone, we accept, but we don’t embrace.” Perhaps it is human rights, then, that can fill this gap and thus complement tolerance education. Finally, Dieng stated that “there is a need for increased national and international monitoring capacities for early warning purposes,” which could be achieved by creative new technologies and media.
Susan Benesch, project director for the World Policy Institute’s “Dangerous Speech on the Road to Mass Violence,” was next. She presented her theory on dangerous speech, which she defines as “certain speech, some subset of speech within this large, vague universe of hate speech . . . [that has] a special, terrible power . . . to move groups of people so that they will condone and eventually take part in atrocities.” Two hallmarks of this she mentioned are dehumanizing language that associates human beings with animals (for example, the Nazis’ reference to Jews as pests or vermin, and the Hutus’ reference to Tutsis as inyenzi, or cockroaches), and what she called “accusation in a mirror.” This occurs when an “inflammatory speaker tells his audience that the other group, the future victims, are coming to get them,” and thus creates an “analogue of the one iron-clad defense to murder in every single legal system: self-defense.” When this happens, violence becomes both acceptable and necessary. In addition, Benesch pointed to a set of five criteria for making an educated guess on the level of danger that particular speech might lead to: the speaker, the audience, the speech act itself, historical and social context, and means of dissemination of the speech.
After Benesch came Frank LaRue, who agreed on the importance of criminalizing incitement to genocide, but emphasized the importance of having a threshold for doing so. As he remarked, it is “very important to maintain the idea that when you’re limiting speech, you’re going to the exception of the rule; the norm should be the openness.” Importantly, he also identified benchmarks for determining this threshold, which include intent, severity and extent of the content, the feasibility and immediacy of harm being produced, and the context within a specific country. When prompted by Abramowitz on a follow-up question, LaRue added that “oftentimes governments are using limitations, which they try to justify as limiting hate speech . . . but they’re actually limiting legitimate debate and dialogue,” which underscores the necessity of remaining aware of country-specific context in evaluating hate speech and incitement.
George Weiss, founder of Radio La Benevolencija Humanitarian Tools Foundation (La Benevolencija), followed LaRue. He explained the work that his organization has done, particularly in Rwanda over the past 10 years, which began when psychologists were invited by the Rwandan government to teach comparative psychology in the country. Noting that studies generated by Yale, Princeton, and New York University had all evaluated the program and produced positive feedback, Weiss reiterated that when audiences like the Rwandan public are afraid of what they are not accustomed to – for example, democratic principles – you must “reach them by giving them virtual examples that they respect,” which are often archetypal or heroic in nature. One example of this is a soap opera titled “New Dawn,” which has run in Rwanda since 2003 and remains the most popular soap opera in the country. As Weiss acknowledged toward the end of his remarks, “You don’t only change knowledge. You embed knowledge, and that has to lead to attitude change.” Indeed, this is the goal of programs like “New Dawn” and similar projects created by La Benevolencija.
The last panelist was Aidan White, director of the Ethical Journalism Network, who stressed a return to the traditional values of journalism. Citing political manipulation and economic and professional crises as having undermined these efforts in recent years, White emphasized that journalism is different from free expression, in that journalism is “constrained expression – you can’t just say what you want to say.” Instead, White argued, journalists must be motivated by “cardinal principles,” including truth, independence, impartiality, accountability, and “[showing] humanity” in the way they do their work.
A range of topics were further extrapolated on as the moderator Abramowitz facilitated discussion on some of the points made by the panelists. This included issues pertaining to particular countries like Libya, Syria, and Iran, as well as Greece, which Weiss pointed out is the first country where a neo-Nazi group has been elected to Parliament. Given that this group, Golden Dawn, has “openly said that the Nazis and Hitler are their role models, [and] that they only got elected into parliament to destroy democracy,” the future of what Weiss refers to as the “destructuralization of Greek society” is certainly in question. White also responded to this, stating, “We need journalism . . . to give us informed background, to give us context, and to give us really important analysis of the consequence of events and how that’s going to affect people’s lives.”
When the conversation moved back to solutions for the debate over freedom of expression, LaRue commented that “never should intervention be censorship,” and instead that “the intervention and the response has to be positive speech.” Benesch supported this statement when she answered a related question, from Abramowitz, on why it is potentially risky to limit speech. She responded by noting that doing so “is to shut down the opportunity to debate, to air grievances, legitimate or not legitimate . . . and if you shut that down, that may in fact increase the likelihood of mass violence itself.” Therefore, while the fine lines that demarcate hate speech, incitement, and freedom of speech remain malleable, advancements made at multiple levels within the international community have certainly added to a greater contextualization of how we might eventually determine more fixed guidelines for establishing each of these boundaries.
Responsibility to Implement:
Considering Civil Society’s Knowledge and Use of R2P
In 2001, the Canadian-based International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS) produced a report called The Responsibility to Protect (now often abbreviated as “R2P”). The concept of R2P — as endorsed, in modified form, by the United Nations World Summit in 2005 — centers on the belief that while each state “carries the primary responsibility for the protection of populations from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing,” the international community also has a “responsibility to assist” states in achieving this objective. Emphasizing the contingency of state sovereignty and non-interference in a state’s internal affairs, R2P has challenged previously held norms of humanitarian intervention and persuaded the community of nations to reexamine its approach to future crises that threaten to destabilize countries around the world.
The real test of R2P’s effectiveness, however, remains its ability to be implemented in situations that fit the criteria for its application. Much of this responsibility lies with civil society and member states, which are tasked with identifying crises for which invoking R2P might be an appropriate response to conflict. The challenge in doing so is to apply R2P in a consistent manner, as the legitimacy and continued relevance of a developing norm is greatly tied to the international community’s perceptions of its use. As such, it is important that the international community also understand precisely what R2P is intended to be used for.
One way to achieve this is by continuing to educate both NGOs and other members of civil society about R2P, as well as clarifying elements of R2P that have been misconstrued or incorrectly perpetuated. In order to facilitate this, the United Nations’ Department of Public Information-Non-Governmental Organizations (DPI-NGO) held a briefing entitled “Implementing the Responsibility to Protect: The Role of Civil Society and Member States” on March 14 at the International Social Justice Commission Salvation Army. Moderated by Gail Bindley-Taylor, United Nations Information Officer at the UN Secretariat, the presentation included remarks from Gillian Kitley, Senior Officer in the UN Office on Genocide Prevention and the Responsibility to Protect; Sapna Considine, Deputy Director of the International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect; and Naomi Kikoler, Director of Policy and Advocacy at the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect.
Following a brief overview of how conflicts in the 1990s, including the Rwandan genocide in 1994 and the genocide in Srebrenica in 1995, prompted the international community to develop a new approach to state sovereignty as embodied in R2P, Bindley-Taylor turned the floor over to Kitley, who spoke about some of the contemporary aspects of R2P. In particular, Kitley noted a few of the recent advances in its implementation, including an increase in research being done on the topic, as well as the growing number of national focal points within member states. In addition, she cited that R2P, which “is now firmly on the international agenda,” has also “become part of [the] diplomatic language” of governments, international organizations, and commissions.
In regards to the UN’s invocation of R2P, Kitley commented on how the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) has gone through long periods of both use and non-use of the document. In doing so, she also highlighted concerns over the controversial use of R2P in Libya, as the outcome of this crisis left many international actors wondering if the goal of R2P was “regime change rather than [being] purely aimed at civilian protection.” Stating that this lack of understanding indicated the necessity of developing guidelines for use of force by the UNSC, Kitley reinforced that coercive measures under R2P are rare, and that she thus “[considers] the concerns of member states to be unnecessary.” Instead, she offered the “actual willingness of states and the international community” to promote R2P as being the primary obstacle to its effectiveness.
The second speaker, Considine, centered her commentary on the role of civil society organizations, stating that “R2P is a vital new tool for civil society to hold governments responsible” when they fail to protect their citizens. Considine divided her talk into two sections, the first of which addressed how the “existing work [of NGOs] already contributes” to the work of R2P. Here, she noted eight specific examples:
- Monitoring and documenting crimes, including identifying indicators of mass atrocities
- Sharing early-warning information and assessments with other monitoring mechanisms
- Facilitating mediation, negotiation, and dispute resolution
- Assisting in the training of civilian protection personnel, including helping civilians to recognize indicators of mass atrocities
- Helping with recovery and post-trauma
- Supporting and enhancing regional and national justice systems
- Advocating for stronger resolutions through adopting legislation and strengthening domestic policies
- Supporting local communities in building capacities to recognize threats
In the second section, Considine discussed how NGOs might do more, and focused on four areas of improvement: building understanding of R2P, so as to clarify misconceptions and promote knowledge of the document; “[advocating] for increased norm support for R2P;” strengthening an R2P constituency; and continuing to advance research and policy development initiatives.
Kikoler, the last panelist, focused on what R2P means for the people on the ground, stating that its main purpose is to “strengthen the architecture of prevention.” She began with a personal anecdote of the time she spent in Rwanda following the 1994 genocide, which she contrasted with her grandfather’s survival of Auschwitz during the Holocaust. “What on earth can ‘never again’ mean?” she asked, citing how 50 years after her grandfather’s ordeal, people in another part of the world still experienced the same horrors of genocide. She answered her own question by simply stating that our task today is to ensure that “[never again] doesn’t continue to mean nothing.”
Specifically, Kikoler posited two challenges to “never again”: the consistency of response, which she exemplified by contrasting Libya and South Kordofan; and a “failure to prioritize prevention.” Here, Kikoler focused in particular on the financial aspect, noting that it is less costly to prevent atrocities from occurring than to respond to a situation that has already turned to violence. For example, she discussed the potential of using funds to prevent hate speech, promote education, combat incitement by the media, and assist early-warning groups in an effort to prevent rather than react to conflict. “What can it look like, and how much does that cost?” she asked. Citing the 2013 elections in Kenya at the end of her presentation, Kikoler offered this instance as an example of how the international community “can develop some best practices . . . on how prevention can make a difference.”
As Kitley stated during the question-and-answer session, “We shouldn’t be looking only at imminent situations.” Indeed, if a conflict has escalated to the point of “imminence,” the opportunity for prevention has likely passed. This is yet another example of the critical role of civil society and member states in the dissemination of information on R2P, as well as in assisting the effective implementation of its parameters. While R2P remains imperfect and will likely require continual advancements in both its understanding and use, Kikoler said it best when she ended the conference by stating that “it is better to try to do something than to dismiss R2P in general.”
Questions Concerning the Application of R2P
One of the most troubling crises in our world today is the conflict in Syria, where the United Nations estimates that 70,000 civilians have been killed and millions more people are displaced and in need of humanitarian assistance. The unrest, which began in the spring of 2011 with public uprising against Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s repressive governance tactics, quickly escalated into violence from both sides when the military started opening fire on groups of demonstrators, who subsequently formed an opposition government comprised of several rebel factions. The Syrian government pushed the envelope even further when it was discovered in November of last year that its troops were mixing chemicals necessary for carrying out a campaign of chemical warfare. While a potential catastrophe was likely avoided due to immediate condemnation from the United States and the rest of the international community, the fact remains that Syria has the capacity to use these weapons at a later time. More important, despite various efforts to end the conflict, neither Syria’s opposition forces — which have also been shown to be committing crimes against humanity — nor the United Nations has been able to stop President Assad’s murderous attack on civilians, which has resulted in continued destruction of life.
The world community acknowledges that the crimes and atrocities being perpetuated in Syria must end. However, the means by which such an outcome might be achieved remain a topic of debate. In an effort to facilitate discussion around this dilemma, the Peace Islands Institute’s Center for Global Affairs and the Istanbul-based Journalists and Writers Foundation collaborated to host an event on February 28 titled “Responsibility to Protect: Implications to the Crises in Syria and Other Nations.”
The program included brief remarks from moderator Roy S. Lee, the permanent observer for the Asian-African Legal Consultative Organization to the United Nations and adjunct professor at Columbia University Law School, as well as presentations from Ambassador Herman Schaper, Permanent Representative of the Netherlands to the United Nations in New York, and Michael Doyle, the Harold Brown Professor of International Affairs, Law and Political Science at Columbia University.
Lee opened the program by addressing the dire circumstances in Syria. Specifically, he referenced nations’ attempts to persuade the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to refer Syria’s case to the International Criminal Court (ICC), as well as the UNSC’s rejection of a draft resolution that would have “come close to Chapter VII actions.” He also highlighted Syria’s recent mobilization of chemical weapons and cited growing concerns among human rights groups that “the time to act is already overdue,” meaning that the next step is to invoke the Responsibility to Protect (R2P). Finally, he noted the United States’ announcement earlier that day that it would be pledging $60 million to assist opposition parties in Syria.
Following Lee’s introduction, Ambassador Schaper began by contrasting the action taken in Libya and the inaction in Syria with respect to the norm of R2P, highlighting how R2P itself was created with the intention of acting as a bridge between moral responsibility and legal obligations. In particular, Schaper referenced paragraphs 138 and 139 of the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document, which appear under the heading of “responsibility to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity,” and assert that while primary responsibility to protect lies with states themselves, the international community also has the duty to take collective action through the UNSC if states “manifestly fail” to uphold this responsibility. As such, Schaper called R2P an emerging norm that represents a “fundamental shift in the doctrine of sovereignty” and reflects “growing acceptance [of the belief that] a state is at the service of its citizens,” and not the other way around. In a similar way, he explained, “whether to act instead became an issue of how and when to act.”
Referring to recent successes of R2P in places like Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, and Libya, Schaper affirmed that “Syria is clearly an R2P situation” due to the crimes there, as well as the “clarity that the government of Syria is manifestly failing in its responsibility to protect.” He continually supported the use of R2P, given its validity, which lies in its “necessary legal basis through resolutions of the Security Council,” and suggested that the only viable option for Syria is to “go for a unified international approach to find a solution through a political tract.”
Professor Doyle expressed similar views, calling R2P “special” and “a landmark development in the international norm of human security.” Doyle’s subsequent remarks centered on what he termed the simultaneous license and leash offered by R2P. The license, he argued, is the capacity to “go beyond standard legal provisions seen in the UN Charter,” so as to invoke the “use of residual pressure” in crises like Syria. In contrast, the leash is represented by a restriction on the use of force to cover only four crimes (genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, crimes against humanity), as well as on the authority for making such a determination – that is, a resolution issued by the UNSC.
After providing a quick overview of international law in relation to Chapter VII of the UN Charter, Doyle moved to the topic of legitimacy, and the question concerning when force could be used without UNSC approval. This discussion, he stated, was the impetus for the creation of the Canadian-led International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS), which produced R2P in 2001 and presented it at the 2005 UN World Summit. In essence, by successfully narrowing down triggers for the use of force, R2P was viewed as something “that was within the purview of the Security Council,” and reflected both a license – the affirmation that the Security Council can, indeed, protect individuals – and a leash – that this exclusive authority is attached only to the UNSC.
In practice, Doyle cited the same examples mentioned by Schaper, and added a few words on the implications of R2P’s use in Libya and, so far, non-use in Syria, stating that some countries might now be feeling “buyer’s remorse.” Given that the crisis in Libya resulted in the death of Muammar Gaddafi and a subsequent regime change, Doyle commented on countries’ fears that R2P might be used in the future for purposes it was not initially intended to address. Nonetheless, Doyle strongly supported the positive potential offered by use of R2P in Syria, and offered two suggestions for action. First, he indicated the need for another conversation to take place on the circumstances under which R2P should be used. Second, Doyle said the UNSC should set up a subcommittee to monitor the implementation of R2P, upon its being authorized. The alternative, he surmised, would be a continued stalemate in Syria.
One of the most important concerns raised in the question-and-answer session was how to measure what is a “reasonable chance of success” as justification for military force under R2P. Doyle responded by underlining how difficult it is to ever prove successful prevention, as “we won’t know that [crimes] haven’t taken place” and thus cannot produce tangible evidence to support such claims. However, he did emphasize that the most essential component is the responsibility to rebuild – to help a people reestablish their own state – because “it would be a sad commentary on R2P if it was only [used for] military purposes.” Doyle concluded with perhaps an even better remark on “reasonable chance” criteria, insisting that success should truly be measured by whether or not it was acceptable to and accepted by those it hoped to – and hopefully did – protect.
Photo: Michelle Eberhard
Remembering to Look Forward:
Auschwitz, Argentina, and Genocide Prevention in 2013
By ALEX ZUCKER
On this day 68 years ago, Soviet troops liberated the Auschwitz–Birkenau concentration and extermination camp, created and operated by German Nazis. It is of course a day to remember. To remember the facts. To remember the horror. To remember the people. But it is also a day to remember to look forward.
More than 1.3 million children, women, and men lost their lives in the camp, according to the Auschwitz–Birkenau State Museum, which maintains the site for memorialization and education. The vast majority of the people killed there were Jews — murdered as victims of the crime that we now recognize as genocide. At the same time, tens of thousands of other people were also deported to Auschwitz to die because of their identity — Poles, Roma and Sinti, Soviet prisoners of war, homosexuals, and political prisoners. We remember them too on this day.
Each of the human beings slaughtered in Auschwitz–Birkenau, and killed in the Holocaust as a whole — beaten, worked, or starved to death, subjected to ghastly experimentation, raped, tortured, shot, hung, gassed and cremated — each of them came from a family. Each was somebody’s mother or father, sister or brother, daughter or son, wife or husband.
The testimonies of those who survived are one way we know of the suffering and commemorate the loss. Scholarly research helps us to understand how it happened, if less clearly or satisfactorily why. In fact we continue to discover new information about the Holocaust, and with it, our understanding of what happened continues to change.
Yet the promise that emerged from those events, the pledge of “Never Again,” remains to be fulfilled. That phrase, according to the pioneering Holocaust historian Raul Hilberg, first appeared on signs put up by prisoners in Buchenwald at the end of World War II. Very quickly it came to be understood to mean “No More Genocide,” and the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, the first human rights treaty adopted by the United Nations, in 1948, seemed to represent a concrete and important step toward making good on that promise. Since then, however, not a decade has passed without a genocide or atrocity crimes of a similar scale taking place.
In 2008, the Auschwitz Institute organized the first running of its Raphael Lemkin Seminar for Genocide Prevention, named after the man who invented the term genocide and held on the grounds of the Auschwitz concentration camp, in cooperation with the Auschwitz–Birkenau State Museum. While the museum is focused on memorializing and educating about the past, the Auschwitz Institute’s mission — building a worldwide network of policymakers with the tools and the commitment to prevent genocide — looks squarely toward the future.
Our latest initiative — born in 2012 at the request of government officials themselves, with the Auschwitz Institute serving as catalyst — is the Latin American Network for Genocide and Mass Atrocity Prevention. And today, in honor of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, we are proud and excited to present a new model for organizing government to prevent genocide.
Argentina’s National Mechanism for Prevention of Genocide, conceived by the National Directorate on Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law in the Ministry of Defense in collaboration with other national government institutions, is an attempt to put into practice the commitments Argentina undertook when it ratified the Genocide Convention in 1956.
Like the Atrocities Prevention Board created by the U.S. government last year, the Argentinean national mechanism provides for interagency coordination on the federal level. Unlike the U.S. board, however, Argentina’s proposal involves not only the federal government, but provincial (i.e., state) governments as well. Also unlike the U.S. model, it provides for ongoing training and development of education for all relevant civil servants in genocide prevention, human rights, and international humanitarian law, as well as “development of standards and criteria for evaluating mass media, communications, and public relations messaging.” Finally, it envisions coordination in policymaking and processing information with not only the UN but also relevant regional bodies.
The Auschwitz Institute does not believe there is only one way to prevent genocide. In every facet of our work, we support local solutions and insist that each state has the responsibility to develop a means of preventing genocide that makes sense for itself. We are encouraged to see a state like Argentina, with its own terrible legacy of state-sponsored atrocities, not only coming to terms with history but leading the way forward into the future.
So today, as we remember the horrors of the past, we may also take solace in knowing there is progress being made, and new ideas coming to life, in the effort to make “Never Again” more than a slogan.
Photo: Alex Zucker
Part 3 in a series by Marissa Goldfaden as she works her way through “Introduction to minority rights, regional human rights mechanisms, and minority rights advocacy,” a new online course offered to the public free of charge by Minority Rights Group International. The course’s stated objectives are to introduce concepts of minority rights and discrimination, develop awareness and understanding of international and regional mechanisms for minority rights, and improve practical skills in lobbying and advocacy.
Topic 3: UN legal instruments protecting minorities
Section 1: Introduction to treaties
A treaty is a legal agreement between states, drafted by them. Within the UN, when the draft is completed, the General Assembly approves or adopts the text. The latter happens through a vote or by consensus. Each state must then decide whether to become a party to the treaty. If a state decides to become a party to the treaty, it must sign the treaty, showing its intention to become legally bound in the future. The state then ratifies the treaty, confirming it will be legally bound by it. This can also be achieved through accession (ratification without a prior signature) or succession, meaning a state expresses its willingness to be bound by international agreements that were entered into by a predecessor state or states. After a certain number of states have ratified, acceded or succeeded to a treaty, the treaty ‘enters into force,’ whereby it becomes legally effective for those states.
When a state ratifies, accedes to, or succeeds to a treaty, it can modify some of the provisions by making a reservation–a statement that changes, or even negates, the provision in an article or part of an article of a treaty. MRG defines an article as “an item in a treaty that lays out an obligation of the states that are bound by the treaty.” Reservations are allowed, except if the treaty expressly forbids it, or if the reservation is ‘incompatible with the object and purpose of the treaty.’ States parties to a treaty can enter a declaration, often a definition or a clarification of what the state believes the treaty provision to mean. MRG points out here that there are two uses of the term ‘Declaration’ in the context of international law:
- The main use of the term is as an international agreement between states that is not legally binding. For example, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Minorities (UNDM).
- As seen here, a declaration can also be a statement of clarification about a provision of a treaty.
Treaties have both strengths and weaknesses. Their strength lies in the fact that unlike declarations, treaties are legally binding. Moreover, when a state ratifies an international human rights treaty, it is compelled to adjust domestic legislation in order to comply with treaty legislation. On the flip side, a treaty is only legally binding on the states which have ratified it. Reservations and declarations to human rights treaties can also constitute a major problem.
Section 2: UN treaties and minorities
There are eight main UN treaties protecting a range of human rights:
- International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)
- Article 27 of the ICCPR specifically refers to minorities. It is the main legally binding provision on minorities in human rights law. It provides that persons belonging to minorities ‘shall not be denied’ the right ‘to enjoy their own culture, to profess and practice their own religion, or to use their own language.’
- International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR)
- International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD)
- International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)
- Convention Against Torture (CAT)
- Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)
- International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (ICRMW)
- International Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD)
Another important treaty relating to minority rights is the International Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. Article I states, “The Contracting Parties confirm that genocide, whether committed in time of peace or in time of war, is a crime under international law which they undertake to prevent and to punish.” Article II defines genocide.
In order to address the issue of governments complying with treaty provisions, the UN has put in place human rights monitoring committees, so-called treaty monitoring bodies made up of human rights experts from different states. These experts are nominated by their governments, elected by states party to the treaties for fixed, renewable four-year terms, and independent, i.e., not representative of their state’s interests.
A treaty monitoring body has been created for each human rights treaty:
|Human Rights Treaty||Treaty Monitoring Body|
|International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)||Human Rights Committee (CCPR)|
|International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR)||Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR)|
|International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD)||Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD)|
|Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)||Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)|
|Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment (CAT)||Committee Against Torture (CAT)|
|Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)||Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC)|
|International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (ICRMW)||Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families (CMW)|
|Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD)||Committee on the Right of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD)|
Treaty-monitoring bodies perform four main functions: reviewing state reports, interpreting the treaty, considering individual complaints, and thematic/general discussions.
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Monday marked the launch of the Obama administration’s eagerly awaited Atrocities Prevention Board (APB). Live webcasts of the President’s remarks at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, followed by an afternoon’s worth of panel discussions at the White House, moderated by Samantha Power, chair of the new Board, excited the genprev community.
Following is a sample of reactions and responses:
Francis Deng and Edward Luck, UN Special Advisers on the Prevention of Genocide and on the Responsibility to Protect, said today in a press release: “[We] commend the growing series of partnerships established by Member States under a Responsibility to Protect framework. These include the network of focal points proposed by Costa Rica, Denmark, Ghana and Australia; the regional conferences on genocide prevention organized by Argentina, Switzerland and Tanzania; the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region’s Regional Committee on the Prevention of Genocide and Mass Atrocities, the [Auschwitz Institute’s] Latin American Network for Genocide and Mass Atrocity Prevention; and other regional and sub-regional arrangements for the prevention of atrocity crimes.” The Special Advisers indicated their plan to continue serving as liaisons between the UN and such initiatives designed to maximize regional and cross-regional dialogue.
Scott Paul, Senior Humanitarian Policy Advisor of Oxfam America, said Monday in a press release: “The test for the APB is whether, over the long-run, we’re better able to mobilize those tools and whether it is able to quickly and effectively focus the attention of high-level decision-makers on countries that threaten to descend into mass atrocities in the future.”
Winny Chen, Senior Associate of Human Rights First, said today via e-mail: “The creation of the APB represents an important milestone in U.S. efforts to make ‘never again’ a reality. Though there are still many questions lingering about the structure and function of the APB, I’m heartened to see that the Board is already making strides in expanding the USG’s tools, such as developing new financial levers, for responding to threatening atrocity situations.”
Daniel Solomon, National Student Director of STAND, wrote a blog post yesterday, reflecting on his own participation in the day’s events. He discussed the Board’s composition, arguing that its true significance will not be to stop atrocities, but to “encourage the training of diplomats, development practitioners, military officials, and intelligence officers in atrocities prevention strategies; facilitate cross-national trainings of foreign militaries, law enforcement, and peacebuilding authorities; and, where relevant, provide greater support to the distribution and identification of early warning and atrocities risk.” Solomon also praised USAID’s innovation grants partnership with Humanity United.
Mary Stata, coordinator of the Prevention and Protection Working Group at the Friends Committee on National Legislation, wrote that the new Board brings U.S. policy one step closer to preventing mass violence by peaceful means. She reiterated the intent of the FCNL and others to continue lobbying for the implementation of recommendations made to the Obama administration last fall.
Eric Roston of BusinessWeek suggested the APB should be renamed “Presidential Directive on Mass Atrocities” in the interest of simplicity: “A presidential body dedicated to the eradication of the methodical mass murder of innocents deserves more than to be lost in the stultifying jargon of government bureaucracy, where the APB will take its place in small, gray type next to its cousins, the Financial Accounting Standards Board, the Architectural Transportation Barriers Compliance Board, the Indian Arts and Crafts Board, and the Joint Board For The Enrollment Of Actuaries.”
Less insightfully, as Time magazine noted, the Christian Science Monitor wondered what effect the APB would have on Libya, while The Atlantic worried about the propriety of and risks involved in more global intervention on the part of the U.S.
Crisis Group says the priority is to “prevent the conflict’s further, dangerous and irreversible deterioration” by fleshing out the existing initiative and reaching broad international consensus around a detailed roadmap.
The violence in Syria has escalated to the brink of civil war via bomb attacks and massacres by the repressive regime against the fragmented and increasingly radical opposition. Left unchecked, the violence will put more civilians at risk for mass atrocities, including the massacre of women and children, and possibly put the Alawites, the Syrian regime’s ruling sect, in danger of being targeted as a group for annihilation by an opposition that seeks revenge.
Changes in the regime’s approach in dealing with the opposition would require unlikely political or militaristic shifts in the global balance of power. As such, the implementation of Kofi Annan’s six-point peace initiative is likely to be neither timely nor comprehensive, but for now it remains the only option.
The ICG brief provides an in-depth analysis into why a successful and lasting cease-fire in Syria as a result of the Annan plan (in combination with the half-measures hatched during the “Friends of Syria” meeting in April for the U.S. and its Arab allies to jointly provide financial and technical support to the opposition) is not a realistic expectation, and then suggests immediate next steps for the international community to take in order to prevent further humanitarian and diplomatic deterioration in the region:
- “pilot areas where a ceasefire can be reached and a monitoring mission immediately deployed, in order to generate tangible evidence that this approach can produce relief;
- arrangements under which the regime ultimately would allow virtually all peaceful protests, and the opposition would refrain from organising them in a specified perimeter within Damascus given regime sensitivities;
- parallel to the above, means of enforcing and verifying a commitment by Syria’s neighbours to freeze weapons transfers and smuggling across their borders; and
- modalities of a credible investigation into the worst acts of violence to minimise risks of recurrence.”
Tuesday was the deadline set by the six-point Kofi Annan peace plan for Syria to cease fire against the opposition. As foreseen by many experts, Syria has been dragging its feet regarding the cease-fire, not least by ignoring the Tuesday deadline and continuing the violence against insurgents into Wednesday, while attaching numerous last-minute conditions to its active cooperation with Annan’s plan.
A few days before the deadline, for example, Damascus demanded written guarantees from opposition groups and hostile foreign states to renounce violence. International leaders responded with strong condemnations. Prime Minister David Cameron warned that the U.K. would put fresh diplomatic pressure on the UN Security Council to give President Assad’s crimes a “day of reckoning.”
On Wednesday afternoon, Syria agreed to a new cease-fire deadline of Thursday, without the written agreements by the opposition to give up their weapons, but has announced that it reserves the right to retaliate against any new opposition attacks.
As of Thursday, there were reports of a strained and uneasy silence in Syria. The regime has stopped bombarding rebellious towns heavily, but heavy weapons and government troops remain deployed in cities. The situation is very fragile, but perhaps if the cease-fire holds up a bit longer, it will be enough time for the UN to negotiate and send in the first monitoring force as per the Crisis Group’s recommendations. Discussions about installing a monitoring team in Syria have been ongoing since at least late March.
Crisis Group presents some important questions once the practical discussions about a monitoring force are underway again:
- “What would be required for an adequate third-party monitoring presence and mechanism – in terms of numbers, mandate, capacity – to address violations of the desired reciprocal and unconditional ceasefire, without which it almost certainly would quickly collapse?;
- Might it first be deployed on a smaller scale, in pilot areas where a ceasefire could be immediately reached, as a way of demonstrating its ability to provide rapid, tangible relief?;
- What is required to achieve, ensure and verify a credible commitment by Syria’s neighbours to freeze weapons transfers and smuggling across their borders?;
- How can one precisely define and carry out a regime commitment to tolerate peaceful protests while possibly allowing the authorities to protect some key interests: at a minimum ensuring mass protests do not occur in the heart of the capital (within a specified perimeter the authorities might consider overly sensitive)?; and
- Initiation of a serious investigation into the worst forms of violence as a critical step toward preventing their recurrence, entailing Syrian cooperation with a team of international experts.”
It is a long shot, but if the immediate deescalation of violence in Syria is successful for long enough to allow a good faith effort to answer the questions above and to act upon those answers, a credible political transition in Syria may still be in the cards.