In this series of public awareness, we support the view that as history and current events throughout the world demonstrate, ethnic violence, war crimes, and crimes against humanity can occur almost everywhere. We argue that most minority groups’ predicaments in conflict situations are the result of exclusion and alienation on the basis of race, ethnicity, refugee status, places of origin, political and religious affiliation, amongst others. Vulnerable minorities, such as the Banyamulenge people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, face a variety of challenges, including human rights breaches and neglect. These realities include acts that can be classified as “slow genocide”. After all, most researchers agree that genocide does not happen by accident, but rather requires foresight and planning on the part of the offender. Appointing R2P representatives who are responsible for the promotion and guarantee of human rights and humanitarian response can help governments and regions to prevent genocide and other mass atrocities.
The Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect (GCR2P) has graciously allowed the GI ADVISORY permission to share their written Submission to the UN Human Rights Council Intersessional Meeting on the prevention of genocide. The GCR2P submission is shared in this series with the express goal of raising public awareness, and it covers the following areas:
- Strengthening national capacities for the prevention of genocide
- Promoting participation in regional initiatives for genocide and atrocity prevention
- Strengthening early warning, early response and prevention mechanisms within the UN system for the prevention of genocide
- STRENGTHENING NATIONAL CAPACITIES FOR THE PREVENTION OF GENOCIDE
Modern history demonstrates that genocide, ethnic cleansing, war crimes, and/or crimes against humanity can occur almost everywhere. Genocide and other mass atrocity crimes are often the result of long-standing discriminatory practices, the targeting of vulnerable groups, patterns of violations and abuses of human rights, and a lack of strong domestic institutions.
Genocide as a crime is distinct from the commission of other atrocity crimes as it includes the intent to destroy, in part or whole, an entire group. As history has taught us, genocide does not happen overnight, but requires planning and organization on the part of the perpetrator. As such, genocide is preventable if warning signs are taken seriously and followed by early action.
On a national level, risk factors for genocide and other mass atrocity crimes must be addressed through holistic policies and processes aimed at countering discrimination and marginalization. This includes strengthening legislative and institutional frameworks to guarantee principles of non-discrimination, ensuring the presence of various communities in political and public offices, and investigating all cases of discriminatory behavior or dangerous public discourse, even when practiced by popular politicians and leaders. Governments should undertake the following measures to strengthen national capacities for the prevention of genocide and other atrocity crimes:
1. Create a national strategy or plan for genocide and atrocity prevention
Genocide and atrocity prevention are domestic policy imperatives. It is a cross-cutting issue that is relevant to the work of various departments and ministries, including national security, justice, human rights, minority affairs, women and child welfare, education, culture, health, and beyond. A holistic, government-wide atrocity prevention strategy can aid in assessing national vulnerabilities to atrocities, strengthening societal resilience, and building structural mechanisms to prevent or respond to atrocity risks. A national strategy on atrocity prevention can also equip political actors with the necessary contextual knowledge on risks factors for genocide and other atrocity crimes to comprehensively assess policy options and timely and consistent responses aimed at protecting populations and holding perpetrators accountable. Such a strategy should be rooted in the principle of R2P.
2. Enact legislation that facilitates structural atrocity prevention
The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (Genocide Convention) obliges states to take measures to prevent and punish the crime of genocide. Governments should expeditiously sign and ratify the Genocide Convention and enact domestic legislation criminalizing genocide in accordance with the Convention. States should also adopt domestic legal protection for vulnerable groups and communities to help strengthen their capacity to prevent or halt genocide and other atrocities. National legal frameworks should include the protection of minority rights and legislation against hate speech and incitement.
- Minority rights protection. Minority groups are often the most marginalized and vulnerable groups within society and are most likely to be exposed to structural discrimination, racism and exclusion from participation in economic, political and social life. In addition to adopting domestic legislation that aims to protect minority rights, states should ratify international treaties that protect and enhance human rights to prevent discrimination, exclusion and hostility against members of minority groups.
- Legislation against hate speech and incitement. One of the most important early warning signs of genocide is the proliferation of hate speech and incitement. Hate speech is rhetoric that marginalizes and targets people on the basis of their religion, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation or race. In other words, it is language that demonizes people not for anything that they have done, but for who they are. Such dangerous speech erodes social cohesion and lays the foundation for violence against vulnerable groups. Discriminatory public discourse against communities based on their identity normalizes violence against individuals or groups who are perceived as “threats,” which may incite its audience to engage in greater violence and acts of genocide. Governments should enact domestic legislation aimed at preventing hate speech and incitement, while guaranteeing the right to freedom of speech. Furthermore, states should utilize the recommendations outlined in the UN Plan of Action and Strategy on Hate Speech to identify gaps and challenges on a national level.
3. Appoint an R2P Focal Point
Governments can strengthen capacities for genocide and atrocity prevention by appointing a senior-level government official responsible for the promotion of mass atrocity prevention at the national and international levels. Currently, 61 countries from all regions of the world – as well as the European Union (EU) and the Organization of American States (OAS) – have an R2P Focal Point and are part of the Global Network of R2P Focal Points, which meets annually to exchange best practices and strategies for strengthening atrocity prevention, including on a national level. Members of the Global Network include states that have never experienced mass atrocities domestically as well as states with populations currently experiencing, or at imminent risk of, mass atrocity crimes. The placement of an R2P Focal Point within a particular ministry or office is decided by each individual government, taking into account its structure and priorities, including whether the R2P Focal Point’s responsibilities are focused on national or international atrocity prevention.
4. Systematically engage with civil society organizations
Although the prevention of genocide and other atrocity crimes is the primary responsibility of the State, civil society organizations can be instrumental in identifying early warning indicators of genocide, providing recommendations for necessary action at a national and local level, and alerting the international community if governments are unable or unwilling to act. Therefore, governments should regularly call on the expertise of civil society, including through regular consultations with national and local human rights defenders and NGOs. Through the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process, governments should consult national civil society to identify existing risk factors for mass atrocity crimes and ensure that recommendations towards addressing risk factors are implemented across the domestic system.
5. Strengthen atrocity prevention with education
Educating government officials and the wider population is a crucial tool for domestic atrocity prevention. Organizing training for public servants and politicians on R2P and mass atrocity prevention raises awareness within institutions and improves their ability to analyze potential risk factors for atrocities, develop comprehensive policies, and identify and strengthen existing local resources to address risk factors. To build resilient societies, states must develop curricula that promote diversity and inclusion, foster social solidarity, prevent prejudice, and acknowledge past atrocities. Governments can also strengthen genocide and atrocity prevention by translating the UN Framework of Analysis for Atrocity Crimes into local languages and organize public events to promote it domestically.
The Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect (GCR2P) is an independent organization that focuses on conducting research, analysis, and advocacy in relation to mass atrocity.
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