Deconstructing Prevention: The Theory, Policy and Practice of Mass Atrocity Prevention

12 Mar

On Tuesday, February 26, 2013, the Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Reconciliation, in conjunction with the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law Program in Holocaust, Genocide and Human Rights Studies, presented a conference entitled Deconstructing Prevention: The Theory, Policy, and Practice of Mass Atrocity Prevention.

The agenda of the conference was situated around atrocity, conflict, and genocide prevention, protection of civilians, the Responsibility to Protect (R2P), transitional justice and the application of crisis mapping and technology to the field and agenda of prevention. In addition, another objective of the conference was to theorize and examine the assumptions and aims of the field of prevention, while also defining and rationalizing the parameters and the relationship that prevention has with other disciplines and agendas.

The topics discussed in this conference remain relevant in finding a means to prevent genocide and mass atrocity around the world. Specifically, the thematics and ideology behind Deconstructing Prevention: The Theory, Policy, and Practice of Mass Atrocity Prevention runs parallel to the mission of Global Action to Prevent War.

This conference has reinforced the need for furthering the discussion on genocide prevention, as it is clear that while the technology is evolving within the field, there is still need for structural and cultural changes, among the major and most powerful players. While it seems that the academic and civil society actors are most active in the push towards improving the use of technology in early warning indicators and the development of groundbreaking mechanisms, it would be in the best interest of the entire global community to work towards strengthening this evolving and pertinent leg of the prevention field.

The event began with an address from the keynote speaker, retired Lieutenant General Romeo Dallaire, followed by the first panel discussion entitled, “The United Nations Office on the Prevention of Genocide and the Responsibility to Protect: An Evolving Institution.” The panelists included Ambassador Francis Deng, Edward Luck and Juan Mendez.

In keeping with the agenda of the conference, the session started with exploring the link between R2P and state sovereignty, the three-pillar approach, developing mechanisms and early warning indicators both regionally and sub-regionally, and the role of institutions in indicating to governments when it is time to act.

Ambassador Deng, former Special Adviser for the Prevention of Genocide, defined genocide as an extreme form of identity conflict, where some are marginalized and others are given the sense of belonging. This may be characterized through regional identities or religious differences. Ambassador Deng also made reference to the Armenian genocide as the first genocide of the 20th century.

It was noted that sub-regional actors are very important in preventing mass atrocities and genocide, as they are usually able to assist in identifying early warning signs. It was noted that with an emphasis on regional engagement, the involvement of civil society actors, and other institutions, the prevention of mass atrocities is possible. However, this regional engagement would need to involve structural and cultural change across the international community, civil society, member states, the private sector, media outlets and academia.  It was also stated that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has expressed that prevention is an ongoing responsibility, before, during and after a mass atrocity.

The crisis-mapping portion of the conference served as the most modern and applicable tool of genocide prevention. The three speakers outlined the different means by which GIS technology, mapping and other applications may be used in the field both as a means of prevention as well as a system for tracking progress. Professor Colette Mazzucelli, Adjunct Professor from New York University’s Center for Global Affairs, demonstrated the use of the Ushahidi application in monitoring the election in Kenya. Zach Romanow of Palantir Technologies demonstrated the use of time series mapping in some of the most remote regions in the world, while Professor Jennifer Leaning from Harvard University presented some of her own findings from the application of technology to crisis mapping and early warning in humanitarian settings.

Professor Colette Mazzucelli had the following to say about crisis mapping as it pertains to the prevention of mass atrocities, specific to the application of Ushahidi technology:

“Those among us engaged in crisis mapping must be consistently vigilant as we assess how to translate innovations in technology to prevent mass atrocities while accepting the ethical responsibility to protect those mapping for peace. The focus of our communitarian efforts in the early 21st century is on the urgency to reject the experience of the complicit bystander. The evolution is one of a transnational commitment to map for human security on platforms such as Ushahidi to monitor recent historic elections in Kenya, for example, http://blog.ushahidi.com/ Our community is an emerging “transnational advocacy network,” in the usage defined by Keck and Sikkink. The experiences in network over time with each mapping deployment underscore that our shared humanity is at risk in those areas where “predisposing factors,” in Hamburg’s words, leading to genocide exist. Crisis mapping is a technique as well as a methodology to develop in the prevention toolbox, which places the accent on sovereignty as responsibility. Its contributions over time may highlight the view expressed by the Canadian Senator, General  Roméo Dallaire, that early prevention is preferable to late intervention. Mapping is a way to enhance the awareness of those outside areas in need where local community leaders are taking destiny in hand. These leaders are the linchpin of a pioneering crisis mapping system in which locals are responsible to rewrite grassroots narratives from the ground up. Their story is one of a break with history, a staccato narrative, to cite Zerubavel’s term, after decades of top down impunity in the face of injustices committed by states against their own peoples. Our vocation in crisis mapping is one in which we look beyond the killing fields to the social reality we construct on behalf of a prevention culture, which serves to recall Lemkin’s more expansive definition of genocide.”

Additional resources:

wiki.ushahidi.com

forums.ushahidi.com

community.ushahidi.com

 

 

–Shari Smith

Shari is an intern with Global Action this semester.

 

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One Response to “Deconstructing Prevention: The Theory, Policy and Practice of Mass Atrocity Prevention”

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  1. Community Update: Environmental Mappers, 2.7 in the Hopper – Blog | Ushahidi - April 5, 2013

    […] Professor Colette Mazzucelli is quoted about crisismapping in Shari Smith’s article on “Deconstructuring Prevention: the theory of policy and practice of Mass Atrocity Prevention“. […]

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