New Approaches to Preventing Genocide Outlined at Cardozo Law Conference

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Experts Present Expanded Recommendations for International Response

Cardozo Law's Sheri Rosenberg introduces keynote speaker Roméo Dallaire

Prof. Sheri Rosenberg introduces Sen. Roméo Dallaire at New York conference on preventing genocide. (c) Sari Goodfriend

“If prevention is our goal, then we must act before any violence occurs” — Roméo Dallaire

The former head of UN peacekeeping forces in Rwanda called on world leaders and activists to broaden their approach to preventing the outbreak of genocide and other atrocity crimes in a speech at a conference of over 250 policymakers, students, scholars and advocates at Cardozo Law School.

Canadian Senator Roméo Dallaire also stressed that rebuilding society after genocide was crucial to preventing repeated atrocities in the future. The two-day conference was a major event in the prevention movement, bringing together a wide range of experts from government, academia and policy advocacy groups.

Dallaire, as a general in the Canadian Army, led the international peacekeeping mission that watched powerlessly as the 1994 genocide unfolded in Rwanda, claiming some 800,000 lives in three months. He refused to leave when called back by UN headquarters, unwilling to abandon his command and the people of Rwanda.

In his speech to an auditorium packed with UN ambassadors, U.S. government officials, judges, lawyers, scholars, and activists — some of whom traveled from as far away as England, Japan, Australia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo — Dallaire argued forcefully that the wrong lessons had been learned from Rwanda.

Looking back to the original conception of genocide, as defined by the Polish lawyer Raphael Lemkin, Dallaire pointed out that a group of people — however their identity is defined — can be targeted for destruction not only “through mass murder,” or “the assault on physical existence,” but also through attacks on their political, economic and biological existence and their cultural or religious traditions. This means prevention of mass atrocities must begin long before any killing does.

“If prevention is our goal, then we must act before any violence occurs,” the Senator said. At the same time, he appealed to policymakers and advocates not to stop there: “It is not only a question of what needs to be done before atrocities occur, or what needs to be done if they occur, but also about what needs to be done after atrocities occur.”

Sheri Rosenberg, Assistant Clinical Professor of Law and Director of the Holocaust, Genocide, and Human Rights Program at Cardozo, and Tibi Galis, Executive Director of the Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Reconciliation, conceived last week’s conference, “Deconstructing Prevention: The Theory, Policy, and Practice of Mass Atrocity Prevention,” as a way to set the agenda for atrocity prevention in 2013, picking up where UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon left off last year when he dubbed 2012 the Year of Prevention.

Even as the prevention of genocide and other atrocity crimes rises in public consciousness and states — including the US — begin taking steps to organize more effectively for prevention, there is a lack of consensus about the very meaning of the term prevention, as well as how to realize it in the policy of national governments and international institutions.

With that in mind, Rosenberg and Galis organized “Deconstructing Prevention” as not only a public conference but also an edited volume that will serve as an authoritative work on the state of the field, including an examination of its underlying theoretical assumptions. Tentatively slated for publication in 2014, the volume will be an essential read and reference for students, scholars, policymakers, activists, and journalists alike.

Day one of the conference brought together 23 researchers and policy practitioners in closed session to discuss topics from transitional justice, arms control, data mapping, resource conflicts, and economic sanctions to civilian protection, the use of force, international law, corporate social responsibility, and performance studies — considered from the perspective of how they contribute to the theory, policy, or practice of mass atrocity prevention.

Day two, open to the public and held in the Jacob Burns Moot Court Room at Cardozo Law School, began with the keynote address by Senator Dallaire, followed by four panel discussions. The first featured the three former UN special advisers on prevention of genocide in a candid discussion about the institution’s evolution. The remaining three featured prominent government officials, from the United States and abroad, discussing transitional justice, crisis mapping, and how to organize national governments to deal with mass atrocity.

As Galis stressed before moderating the panel on Organizing Government to Prevent Genocide, “It is not enough for us to ask, or demand, governments to prevent genocide and mass atrocities. Without structures to formulate policy, and without mechanisms of accountability, governments simply cannot be effective at prevention.”

Professor Rosenberg concluded the conference by reminding the audience, “The historical tide of engagement on the issue of protecting persons from mass atrocity is continuing apace: Let us not be on the wrong side of history.”

The Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Reconciliation launched its programs in 2008 with the mission of building a worldwide network of policymakers with the tools and the commitment to prevent genocide. Today, AIPR is the chief nonprofit partner of the U.S. government in education and training for genocide and mass atrocity prevention, and partner with the United Nations Office on Genocide Prevention and the Responsibility to Protect as provider of genocide prevention education and training to UN member-state officials.

The Program in Holocaust and Genocide Prevention at Cardozo Law School is unique in legal education. “The program emphasizes an understanding of history as a 21st century challenge to build a better world. We encourage a deeper understanding of the worst moment in history so that the generations we train will never need to study any similar tragedy again.” — Prof. Richard Weisberg, Walter Floersheimer Founding Director, Program in Holocaust and Human Rights Studies.

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Sheri Rosenberg, Director

Tibi Galis, Executive Director
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