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Ending Genocide in the 21st Century

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Ending Genocide in the 21st Century

Posted by Kelly Herman on July 27, 2012

Ending Genocide in the 21st Century

On Tuesday morning, July 24, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, or USHMM, brought together leaders from private, public, and nonprofit sectors to discuss global trends affecting genocide and innovative solutions to address future challenges related to mass killings.  

The symposium, “Ending Genocide in the 21st Century,” commenced with the presentation of a recent USHMM-commissioned poll assessing U.S. awareness of and attitude toward genocide and humanitarian intervention. According to the poll presented by Mark Penn and conducted by Penn Schoen Berland, 94 percent of Americans believe that genocide is still very much a concern and could occur today, 66 percent of Americans believe that genocide is preventable, and 78 percent support the U.S. use of military action to stop genocide or mass atrocities. In regards to such action, most Americans support a multilateral approach for U.S. intervention to help stop mass atrocities and genocide.

Penn, who is the CEO of Burson-Marsteller and Penn Schoen Berland and a member of the USHMM’s Committee on Conscience, concluded the presentation saying, “The results are striking in that they show a deep American concern for genocide and a strong desire for global action to face this threat.”

Following Penn’s presentation, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton delivered the keynote address focusing on strategies to prevent crimes against humanity, and the role of the newly established U.S. Atrocities Prevention Board, or APB, in accelerated response to situations of mass atrocity. Secretary Clinton spoke eloquently about humanity’s moral obligation to confront these crimes, and help prevent them from happening in the future.

Throughout history, genocide and mass killing have started with state-sponsored hate propaganda scapegoating a particular group.

“It’s like stacking dry firewood before striking the match,” Secretary Clinton said. “Then there is a moment of ignition. The permission to hate becomes permission to kill.”

Throughout her address, Secretary Clinton focused on two main ideas: an emphasis on prevention of genocide and mass atrocities, and the importance of recruiting partners to step up multilateral engagement in the face of such crimes. As part of a prevention strategy, the APB has begun to implement training for personnel stationed in vulnerable areas to recognize and respond to warning signs of mass killing. New technology can also play a critical role in prevention, with high-tech innovations such as community-wide alert networks, and the public’s use of social media and YouTube.

Furthermore, the U.S. has expanded the focus of the U.S. Civilian Response Corps’ to include genocide prevention and  empowering citizens, especially women, to protect themselves. Secretary Clinton accentuated the importance of putting pressure on, eliminating resources to, and threatening deserved consequences of genocidal campaigns. However, the impact of these strategies is dependent upon multilateral support from government officials, think tanks, businesses, academic scholars, philanthropists, and NGOs.  

The first panel, following Secretary Clinton’s address, featured diverse experts discussing global trends affecting genocide. The discussion, moderated by Investigative Reporter for The Washington Post Dana Priest, focused on how technology, transboundary  risks, demography, and globalization are influencing mass atrocities in today’s world. Christopher Kohm, chairman of the U.S. National Intelligence Council, emphasized the need to identify drivers of genocide and monitor them in order to break cycles that could lead to mass killing before it starts.

Timothy Snyder, Professor of History at Yale University, focused on how the ecological crisis and globalization affects genocide. He elaborated on the theory that the next century will see an increase in mass killings due to the food shortage panic that is an indirect effect of climate change, as well as the world entering into a new phase of de-globalization.

The second panel, moderated by CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer discussed innovative solutions in responding to future challenges related to mass atrocities. CNN Beirut Correspondent Arwa Dawson emphasized how social media is the opposition’s lifeline in areas of conflict, specifically Syria. She exemplified this statement by describing a brave young father’s courageous actions installing two-way cameras that exposed government misconduct in Syria. Sarah Sewall, a lecturer at Harvard University Kennedy School of Government, expanded on this point, emphasizing the role of social media in bringing about transparency prior to and during genocide and mass atrocities.

View the video of the USHMM symposium.

Photo: Secretary Hillary Clinton’s keynote address at the USHMM symposium. (Enough Project/Tracy Fehr)