Chris Tarquini talks to Genocide Watch President Greg Stanton about Sudan, intolerance and how we can beat it.
There are some rules in life when it comes to discussions with others. For example politics and religion can turn a normal, everyday discussion into a fiery debate or a soul-destroying monologue. However there is another seemingly untouchable subject, one that without fail causes almost every person to swallow deeply, raise their eyes and look at the person talking as if they are some kind of pessimistic, misery merchant. That subject? Genocide.
It seems bizarre in reality. Millions of people have died at the hands of brutal mass murders in the last century. ‘Schindler’s List’ and ‘Hotel Rwanda’ both approached the topic in detail and if they don’t shock someone into paying attention, try ‘The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas’. It is an issue often portrayed but rarely discussed whilst being one of the most terrible instances of human behaviour. Whilst genocide continues in certain forms today, be it political or otherwise much of the international community merely condemn the action, frown, hold meetings and say ‘something must be done’. But who is actually doing something?
‘Genocide Watch’ are a non-profit organisation aimed at highlighting and providing advice on preventing instances of genocide throughout the world. Their President, Dr Gregory Stanton took the time to speak to The Grapevine about the nature of genocide and what both his organisation and you and I can do to stop it.
Gregory Stanton has a soft, polite charm and an apparent degree of optimism that is admirable considering he spends a lot of his time analysing and attempting to prevent mass murder. A man who has interns but still gets his own coffee is a great metaphor for someone who helps fight a moral battle against one of the most destructive actions in humanity whilst not getting carried away with grandiose statements and bombastic language. However on a topic such as this there was little option for both interviewer and interviewee but to have a somewhat sombre tone to the conversation. Were there any countries in particular that Mr Stanton was most worried about regarding genocide at the present time?
“Syria, no question. But the other one is Sudan. I think it’s being ignored. Bashir is committing another genocide. It’s his fourth and the world is pretty much ignoring it. Our evidence is at least 200,000 people have been displaced from their homes”.
Stanton is particularly wary of attacks by Bashir’s government on the Nuba, the black Africans who fought on the South Sudanese side during the civil war. He argues a sinister group are part of the problem.
“There’s a group called ‘The Arab Gathering’ (a group closely linked to the violent Janjaweed militias who slaughtered innocent Black Sudanese), who are a shadowy almost SS like group. Their literature is like reading something out of the Third Reich.”
Strongly influenced by the late Colonel Gaddafi, there are rightly concerns about the Arab Gathering. However the Sudanese problem is a prime example of where government’s may be using ‘civil war’ as cover for something far more specific, sinister and targeted. How do you understand the difference?
“The problem is a lot of people think they are mutually exclusive. It’s one the most common things that occur doing civil wars…. just like in civil wars you dehumanise your enemies so there are a similarities to genocide. Genocide Watch refuses to get involved in political debates over whether genocide is happening. If mass murder is happening that is bad enough.”
But surely it is a demonstration of how we are merely at the mercy of global politics and power brokers when it comes to dealing with genocide? Stanton agrees, arguing there is ‘absolutely no question at all’ that is the case whilst contesting the role of the United Nations Security Council veto in the modern era. Sure that is the problem, but what is the answer?
“An international police force, judicially controlled that could go in and arrest someone who has had an arrest warrant issued from the ICC (International Criminal Court) as right now when the ICC issues an arrest warrant for someone like Bashir or some of these other people they have got no power to actually bring them into court. I know that’s a visionary idea and I know it doesn’t have much chance right now but if the United Nations Security Council could not create such a police force the General Assembly could do it”
Is part of the battle not influencing public perception on what actually constitutes genocide?
“I agree. One of the problems I’ve always had with the word is that it’s not used enough. In other words when we use the word at Genocide Watch we are talking about the early stages, not just the ‘Stage 7’ actual real extermination…because a lot of the early stages need to be recognised before things become more serious”
“For instance one of our member organisations in Belgium put out a film in Cote d’ivoire (Ivory Coast) that actually warned that there was a genocide on the way and they managed to get this thing actually aired on Ivorian TV and to the French who had a military presence in the country. I’m convinced this prevented it becoming a lot worse than it actually was. Kenya is a great example where Kenyans said NO, we are not going to be another Rwanda after church organisations, business organisations, and a lot of civil society organisations had meetings. It was not just the intervention of Kofi Annan and other Africans. A lot of Kenyans got this stopped. It came early enough to prevent a lot more deaths.”
However Stanton recognises there needs to be a balance between fighting the early stages of genocide and the rights of individuals:
“It’s a fine balance. In Rwanda there are draconian laws against divisionism (one of his former interns is working with the Rwandan ministry of justice to re-draft the law) that means at the moment people can be picked off the streets for almost any reason and charged with divisionism.”
Clearly Stanton can see the bigger picture, but would he fall into the trap of those who want to see mass murderers put to death and in a way de-legitimizing their anti-murder campaigns? He didn’t take the bait, arguing against the death penalty and against violence as only a last resort. So what actions would he take?
“There should be a graduated set of responses if they are actually killing their people. Military intervention is really the last thing you’d do, in fact if often makes it worse. For example in Sudan you can blockade their ports and cut off their oil (something he explains South Sudan have done and predicts a Northern attack on their neighbour could provoke a NATO response), and you could create ‘passive no fly zones’. These would target gunships involved in attacks while they were unmanned and on the ground. I have a very strong aversion to killing, despite not being a pacifist. The first duty of sovereignty is to protect the right of its citizens and if it fails to do that and worse actually attacks the rights of its citizens then you invoke responsibility to protect. That’s the way to think about sovereignty”.
Talking with knowledge about genocide is great, but how do Genocide Watch actively work to prevent it? Stanton talks about the importance of knowing the right people, including the likes of Susan Rice and Princeton Lyman
“It’s that sort of personal aspect that is very important. You need to be well informed when you speak to the right people, whilst still knowing they probably know more than you do. You need to go in listening as well as talking.”
Genocide Watch has done everything that it has done since 1999 on $25,000 and all of them are volunteers. Stanton saves the most praise for his ‘astonishing’ interns and hopes grant applications for better financing will move the organisation to the ‘next stage’. One of the main goals is to write up his ‘8 stages of genocide’ into a ‘short and snappy’ textbook for high schools.
As I mentioned, despite dealing with such a heart breaking issue on a daily basis Dr Stanton is optimistic for the future. He cites the democratic rise of Brazil, Argentina and Chile and the huge growth in interracial marriages in the USA as examples of positive change, whilst praising the current generations ‘willingness to take on the big questions’.
So what is his advice for the future? Whilst seeing federalism as a great way to encourage diversity within countries and develop local cultures he believes education is vital to the future. Praising Britain’s human rights organisations apparently for both Dr Stanton and Genocide Watch, a culture change throughout the world is the key, an ‘intolerance for intolerance’. It seems Gregory Stanton will be one of the few people in this tough economy who will be happy when his skills are no longer required. Perhaps one day his work will be remembered as talking about a tragic condition of the human past. We can only hope.