An End to Genocide

256px-Tuol_Sleng_Barbed_WireRecent world events have lead me to think again about the issue of genocide – its prevalence and occurrence and how it seems that it can occur in places around the world with little or no consequence for the rest of us.


I have written elsewhere in WITADA about the significance of the genocide in Cambodia for me personally, and also in the development of WITADA. After I returned from Cambodia in 2001, I decided to increase my knowledge of these issues given that I could simply not comprehend how mass slaughters and exterminations of entire groups of people could be tolerated in our world, with so little action taken by others. In my reading I came across an amazing book called “A Problem from Hell: American and the Age of Genocide” by Samantha Power.


In this book Samantha Power looks at the beginnings of the term genocide, including how it came to be noticed and named, and she also goes through in considerable detail, the major genocides of our time including Cambodia, Iraq, Bosnia, Rwanda, Srebrenica and Kosovo. It’s a brilliant book – both illuminating and disturbing. And for those who might be more drawn to a visual medium, in 2008 Samantha Power gave a very good TED talk about genocide and also about her subsequent book on the life of Sergio Vieira de Mello, a UN diplomat who was killed in Iraq in 2003.


Most importantly, in this TED talk Samantha Power talks about the movement that was beginning then in University campuses and high schools throughout America, an anti-genocide movement, that included the development of an 1800 genocide phone number and a scheme whereby politicians get rated on how active they are in standing up against genocidal practices in the world. This movement is called Stand Now.


The primary point that Samantha Power makes in her TED talk is that if we want to see real change in this areas we must be active in pursuing it and not just relying on others, especially the state, to do this for us.


As the situation in the Central African Republic, Nigeria and Serbia continue to escalate, her words seem poignant to our times. So what then can we do. I don’t think that there are any definitive answers to this complex question however I think that there are some possible starting points for those of us committed to change in this area.


Firstly, in order to intervene effectively we must have a well developed, thorough understanding of the issue and its complexities. Therefore our first step can be to educate ourselves about these issues. Increasing our awareness, and then educating others, is an important key to change – and not a bad place to start. Maybe if we were able to embrace this a little more, we may find that we can generate other effective ideas that will lead to real change.


Secondly, social media is a powerful tool for change and there are many existing groups who operate effective social change campaigns through social media that we can become involved in. There are several organisations that stand out in terms of their interest in genocide and related issues. For example, Avaaz has a community petition platform where individuals can start petitions on key social issues, and Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch are both well known in this area of work.


Thirdly, and specifically in relation to the issue of genocide, there is an international organisation called Genocide Watch – their aim is to build an international movement to prevent and stop genocide. There is some excellent information on their web site about the nature of genocide and key countries at risk. There is also an online pledge that you can sign to indicate your commitment to act against genocide.


When I sat under a huge and beautiful tree at the entrance to the Killing Fields in Cambodia I was unable to contain my grief and despair at what I had just witnessed and I pledged that I would do whatever is in my power to never again remain silent in the face of such extreme injustice, no matter what the consequence. Hence the birth of WITADA some years later.


I remain hopeful that in my lifetime we might create a world where it is no longer possible for genocide and other extreme injustices to occur without such strong global protest and outrage that peace is the inevitable result.