In many ways, the GenPrev world is ruled by a lot of definitions. Governments and other institutions such as the United Nations avoid labeling a conflict the “g-word” as much as possible. In fact, the only time a genocide was deemed as such while the violence was ongoing was the atrocities committed by the Sudanese government and the Janjaweed in Darfur. Institutions don’t want to call something a genocide because it requires them to do anything within their power to end the violence. They get away with avoiding the “g-word” because of the “specific intent” loophole. The Genocide Convention requires that the perpetrators must have the “specific intent” to annihilate a group of people in whole or in part. Specific intent is difficult to prove, and thus governments legally avoid calling things genocide. The narrow definition of genocide, however, does not need to limit our understanding of genocide prevention. In fact, we can focus on creating an ever broader definition of genocide prevention to ensure that our movement does not become stagnant.
The definition of “genocide prevention” can, luckily, be taken in a much broader context. Because the anti-genocide movement focuses on issues that have the potential to become genocide, we do not have to get bogged down in loopholes and legal implications. For example, while the situation in the Central African Republic cannot yet be considered a genocide, numerous anti-genocide organizations have mobilized to ensure that it does not progress down the road to genocide.
Two times a year, the STAND Managing Committee gathers in Washington, DC for the STAND Managing Committee retreat to strategize for the coming semester. Every retreat, we have extensive conversations about STAND’s niche and mission. These conversations often culminate in us saying that, to deal with capacity issues, we must zero in on genocide prevention specifically and leave other human rights violations and issues to other organizations (who, of course, do their work extremely well).
Our approach to this mission was challenged when the Syrian refugee crisis came to the forefront of American legislation and foreign and domestic policy. Our grassroots constituency was searching for actions and the urgency was felt by all, but, officially, refugee crises do not normally fall under a “classical” genocide prevention definition. Even though the refugee crisis did not specifically fit under our niche, we decided to pursue the campaign through our #RefugeesWelcome campaign, which organized students across the country to fight against legislation that would halt the flow of Syrian refugees including an amendment to the Budget and the American SAFE Act.
Despite the incredible success of our #RefugeesWelcome campaign, a little voice in the back of my head insisted that it was not part of our genocide prevention niche.
Jump forward a few weeks to the STAND Managing Committee retreat- we held a session where we invited several alum to talk about their experiences and their vision for the future of STAND. One alum (and my personal hero) complimented us on our #RefugeesWelcome campaign, saying that we should have an ever expanding definition of genocide prevention.
And all of the sudden the little voices in the back of my head went away. While I normally don’t let things change my mind so easily, his affirmation was inspiring and forced me to think about the anti-genocide movement as a whole and my place in shaping it to be an even better and more successful movement in the future.
I am excited to explore these new possibilities of what genocide prevention could mean, and push at the limits of these imposed definitions to amplify the voices of those affected by genocide and mass atrocities across the world.