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April 4, 2017

Wilberforce A!ert: Early Identification of Genocide Lowers Death Tolls

Nazi victim Dietrich Bonhoeffer is famous for saying, “We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.” 

April is Genocide Awareness and Prevention Month, a time to examine how the international community can drive a permanent spoke into the wheel of mass atrocity. April has the lamentable distinction of being the month during which many genocides in recent history began, including those in Armenia (1915), Germany (1933), Cambodia (1975), Bosnia (1992), Rwanda (1994) and Darfur (2003).

It is important to pay homage to the millions of lives that were lost and families that were torn apart. But beyond having an awareness of what has taken place, we must focus on prevention. The world is beginning to recognize the importance of diagnosing these crimes – which at their most basic are the intentional destruction of a people based on ethnicity, race or religion - as they are taking place. While so many have echoed the sentiment “Never again” since the holocaust brought about the coining of the term genocide and the international definition of it, genocide will both sadly and indubitably happen again. It is imperative that the U.S., the UN and all the international community be vigilant to recognize and diagnose these despicable crimes as they begin so that more diplomatic and – if necessary – military power can swiftly mitigate the damage.

History shows that labeling genocide as it’s happening is more than symbolic. It is the difference between diagnosing a cancer during stage one versus stage two, three, four or five. Just as cancer begins with a single mutated cell, Genocide Watch President Gregory Stanton says mass atrocities begin with the seemingly innocent classification of people as “different.” As the 10 stages of genocide progress, society and government can do much to prevent the escalation of crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing. As former 21CWI Directory of Policy Relations Nate Madden wrote in 2015: 

“When Janjaweed militias were slaughtering, terrorizing and displacing millions in Darfur, then-Secretary of State Colin Powell’s initial declaration jump-started the U.S. and international response to the crisis. Research published in the European Journal of Public Health in 2007 suggests that early use of the word genocide has historically led to lower death tolls and swifter responses in mass atrocities.”

Since the Darfur declaration, the U.S. has labeled an ongoing conflict as genocide for the second time in history. A year ago, the U.S. Congress and Secretary of State John Kerry identified ISIS’ crimes against Christians, Yezidis and other ethnic and religious minorities in Iraq as genocide. Today, the international community is working toward bringing to justice the perpetrators of these crimes, and returning the victims to their homes in safety.

Even still, there are other parts of the world where genocides might very well be occurring. On March 24, the UN Human Rights Council voted to send an international fact-finding mission to Burma (Myanmar) to investigate whether the country’s security forces are committing crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing against the country’s minority Rohingya Muslims. The U.S. State Department is investigating as well, as 75,000 have fled to neighboring Bangladesh since October alone.

The more genocide is studied, the more it can be prevented. The more aware we as citizens are of what it is, how it happens, and what we can do about it, the hope is the less prevalent it will become. 21CWI has put together resources below to help you.

Take Action: 

  1. Read “20 Things You Can Do During Genocide Awareness Month.”
  2. Follow 21CWI on Twitter (@21wilberforce), Facebook (21st Century Wilberforce Initiative) and Instagram (21wilberforce) to be involved this month.
  3. Download our International Religious Freedom Scorecard, see how your representative and senators voted on the ISIS genocide declaration, and call their offices to encourage them to do more.
    1. A good place to begin learning about genocide is through museums. Visit the Beyond Genocide database of memorial museums, or explore these locations in the United States:
      1. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington, D.C.
      2. Florida Holocaust Museum, St. Petersburg, FL
      3. Holocaust Museum, Houston, TX
      4. Museum of Tolerance Simon Wiesenthal Center, Los Angeles, CA
      5. Wounded Knee Museum, Wall, SD
Category: Asia , Europe & The Americas , Iraq , ISIS , Middle East & North Africa , Sudan , Syria , U.S.
Keywords: genocide,genocide awareness month,Holocaust,ethnic cleansing,crimes against humanity,21st Century Wilberforce Initiative,21 Century Wilberforce Initiative,21 Wilberforce,21CWI

Christine Elliott Virgin

Christine Virgin is a freelance writer and editor for the 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative.  She was a Charles Kuralt Fellow at the Voice of America, covering international news and events.  Most recently, she worked in the production management department of Discovery Communications.  She has a bachelor's degree in Journalism and Mass Communication from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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