Under Secretary-General Adama Dieng, the UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide on Friday reiterated that Genocide and other atrocity crimes are not single or random events, nor do they develop overnight as happened in the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
Instead, he added, they tend to develop over time, as part of a dynamic process.
Dieng was addressing an International Conference on Genocide at California State University in the United States. He especially spoke about the research he has undertaken on the early warning signs of atrocity crimes, as well as on the principle of the responsibility to protect.
He said: “I would like to start by sharing with you one of the main lessons we have learned in my Office by looking into past and current cases where atrocity crimes have been committed.”
“While the commission of the crimes can happen fairly rapidly – as happened in the case of Rwanda – the process that leads up to them takes time, planning, resources, support and an enabling environment.”
To be able to engage in the level of violence associated with atrocity crimes, he explained, perpetrators need time to develop their capacity to do so, mobilize the resources they will require to carry out their plans, and take the various steps that will help them achieve their objectives.
This process, he noted, can in fact take years or even decades.
“So, if we accept that atrocity crimes are processes, it is possible to identify warning signs that they might occur. This is particularly true in the case of genocide and crimes against humanity.
“If we understand the root causes and precursors of these crimes, and can identify risk factors that can lead to or enable their commission, it follows that we can also identify measures that can be taken by States and the international community to prevent them.”
However, he noted, as time goes on, preventive action becomes more difficult and more costly.
“This is something that we understand very well, but we still struggle to build support for preventive action at an early stage, particularly at the United Nations.”
Talking about identifying early warning signs, Diang said that one of the elements specific to the crime of genocide is the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.
Prevention is a collective responsibility and “each one of us” has a potential to make a positive contribution to this endeavour, he said.
“It is therefore upon us all to transform this potential into reality.”
Dieng echoed the call Thursday by Justice Minister and Attorney General Johnston Busingye who urged representatives of over 30 world universities and research institutions at the three-day symposium to provide their students with in-depth courses on the Genocide against the Tutsi.
Dieng said: “Prevention of atrocity crimes, by which I am referring to genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, starts with educating future generations.
“It is very important to study these crimes and understand why these events have taken place so that we can prevent them from happening again. It is only through learning the lessons of history that we can stop history from repeating itself.
An exceptional individual
Sacramento State Campus, where the conference is held, is the academic home of the late Rwandan Professor Alexandre Kimenyi, whose pioneering spirit and selfless sacrifice, Dieng said, led to Sacramento State hosting the first International Genocide conference in 1998.
Sacramento State University is one of the teaching institutions which have included genocide studies into their curriculum.
“Professor Kimenyi was dedicated to the peaceful resolution of genocide and the recovery of survivors in a challenging social, political, and legal milieu.
“I am certain that his legacy serves as an inspiration to all scholars and participants attending the 5thInternational Conference on Genocide. I hope that his example as a dedicated scholar, honest researcher, and teacher of human rights can carry our conversations throughout the conference, paying tribute to the life accomplishments of an exceptional individual.”