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Diplomacy Director of Research Projects Conducts Interview with UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide  

Borislava and diengDr. Borislava Manojlovic, Director of Research Projects at Seton Hall’s School of Diplomacy and International Relations, recently conducted an interview with the United Nations Secretary General’s Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, Adama Dieng, which we have published in full below. Mr. Dieng works as a catalyst to raise awareness of the causes and dynamics of genocide, to alert relevant actors where there is a risk of genocide, and to advocate and mobilize for appropriate action. In times when atrocities and genocide are prevalent in many parts of the world, his work and the work of others on genocide prevention should be recognized and heard.

The School of Diplomacy is proud to host a research team that supports the Global Action Against Mass Atrocity Crimes (GAAMAC) initiative and works on genocide and atrocities prevention topics. Recently, members of this research team, Andrea Bartoli and Borislava Manojlovic, edited a special issue of Genocide Studies and Prevention: An International Journal, which included an article written by Mr. Adama Dieng and Ms. Jennifer Welsh.
 This interview aims to raise awareness about the work of the United Nations role in genocide prevention, in the hope that we will see the world free of genocide in our near future.

Manojlovic: What are the areas that need our immediate attention in genocide prevention?

Last week I had the opportunity to interact with the Human Rights Council over two days in Geneva on progress in implementing my mandate on genocide prevention.

One of the main concerns I highlighted is the increasing and alarming disregard for international human rights and humanitarian law we are seeing in many situations around the world, which is making atrocity crimes a systematic occurrence rather than an exception.

There has been a proliferation of non-international armed conflicts, which have become increasingly more devastating and complex. Devastating because of the staggering loss of human life and the massive humanitarian crises they have generated, and complex, because the nature of conflicts has changed. We are now dealing not only with states, but with a variety of armed non- state actors - we need to find ways to hold these non-state actors accountable for the terrible crimes they are committing against civilians. The situation is complex also because the way in which conflict is waged keeps evolving and new technologies are allowing for an intensification of the violence rather than helping to minimize suffering.

We have a whole body of international law that regulates armed conflict and protects all those not taking part in hostilities. Right now, however, the legal commitments made by states seem, to a large extent, to be worth not much more than paper they were written on.
We are hearing countless reports of deliberate attacks against civilian targets or civilian populated areas and the use of weapons that do not distinguish between military and non-military targets. I am referring, for example, to the targeting of medical facilities in Afghanistan; the targeting of hospitals, schools and wedding parties in Yemen, and the use of starvation as a weapon of war in Syria.  

Extrajudicial killings, sexual violence, torture, arbitrary detention, forced displacement and so many other clear violations of international human rights and humanitarian law have been reported in most of these conflicts. Invariably, people are targeted because of their identity, in particular their religion or ethnicity. At times, the violations portray such a level of cruelty that they question any precept of our humanity.

When I visited Iraq last November, I was shocked and moved to hear first-hand the accounts by the Yezidi community of the horrific attacks they suffered at the hands of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, the execution of the men and boys and the enslavement, rape and murder of women. In the Central African Republic, children have been targeted by both sides of the conflict simply because of their religion or community affiliation.  

Urgent action is needed to stop this violence and bloodshed. We have the legal tools; we have the capacity. Why is it so difficult to also gather the political will? In 2005, world leaders assumed a political commitment to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. This commitment gave a new impetus to already existing obligations under international human rights and humanitarian law to prevent and protect populations from these horrific crimes. Ten years later, states still have not made their commitment a reality

Manojlovic: What is the impact/traction of the Framework of Analysis for Atrocity Crimes at the moment and how do you see its impact in the next ten years? How can we promote it?

Dieng: The Framework was developed in response to demands of the United Nations system to fill an analysis gap and, in particular, to strengthen the capacity of the Secretary-General to respond systematically and consistently to situations at risk of genocide and other atrocity crimes. It was endorsed by the Secretary-General and has been issued as an official UN document.

The Framework has helped to sensitise, alert and mobilize the UN system to respond earlier on to situations of concern. It has also been used as the basis for the development of the criteria that guide assessment of situations that are considered under the various mechanisms of the Secretary-General’s Human Rights Up Front initiative, which aims to use the UN’s breadth of mandates to prevent serious violations of human rights that could, in the worst case, result in atrocity crimes.

However, the reach of the Framework has extended outside the UN system. Member states have publicly expressed their support and appreciation for the Framework and some are using it to conduct their own assessments. Civil society organizations worldwide and academia have also been referencing and/or making use of the Framework for their advocacy, capacity building or teaching work. The Framework is being included in university curricula, used to produce public reports on country situations, and has even been used to support Amicus Curiae to be presented in a court of law. It has also been incorporated in the training of an array of actors on atrocity prevention around the world.

These are very concrete examples of ways in which the Framework is being used and can continue to be used. I hope in the next few years the Framework will be used more and more, not only for risk assessment but also to identify atrocity prevention gaps. I hope that states will use it to help them assess their strengths and weaknesses and to develop national architecture that can better protect populations.

Manojlovic: GAAMAC is one initiative that you have been participating in. Please tell us about your engagement with GAAMAC and how do you see its future role?

Dieng: GAAMAC is a state led network of states and civil society organisations that are committed to preventing atrocity crimes through the exchange of good practices, information and expertise.

I am very pleased with the strong display of commitment to the prevention of atrocity crimes that GAAMAC represents. Both the first plenary meeting of GAAMAC, which took place in Costa Rica in 2014, and the second GAAMAC meeting, which took place in Manila a few weeks ago, were impressive in terms of the number and quality of participants and the depth of the discussions. I believe that it is becoming a vibrant international platform. I have participated in both plenary meetings and my office works closely with the GAAMAC Secretariat in advancing efforts to operationalize cooperation under this umbrella.

I see GAAMAC as a solid platform for states and civil society to work together in very concrete ways to strengthen national architecture to prevent atrocity crimes. For us, the task of building and strengthening national architecture goes to the core of what preventing atrocity crimes is all about GAAMAC facilitates connections between states that are looking for specific expertise and states that can provide that expertise and/or share their own national experiences. I would like to see many such connections. Moreover, I would like to see GAAMAC becoming an active network and an ongoing process rather than a biannual meeting – and I am sure that the Secretariat of GAAMAC wants this to happen, too. What happens between GAAMAC plenary meetings is even more important than the GAAMAC meetings themselves. I will do what I can to support this objective

Manojlovic: How do we strengthen local actors' capacity to prevent violence and atrocities? Can you give us some examples?

Dieng: By “local actors,” I assume that you are referring to civil society actors. Their role is very important. One of the signs of state resilience to genocide and other atrocity crimes is the existence of an active, diverse and robust civil society, including a pluralistic media that is allowed to operate freely and openly without fear of persecution or reprisal.

Civil society actors can contribute to strengthening the capacity of a society as whole to overcome the risks associated with atrocity crimes. Civil society can contribute towards ensuring accountability of leaders and respect for the rule of law. Local civil society actors have knowledge of and access to early warning information that many other actors do not.

The media is an important element of civil society. The independence and plurality of the media should be encouraged, including the right of national, racial, religious and ethnic minorities to have their own media. States should create a legal and social environment that will encourage professional and ethical standards in journalism and respect and encourage freedom of the press.
We should pay attention when civil society is repressed, when independent radio stations are shut down, and when human rights defenders are arrested arbitrarily, harassed and threatened. This is one of the early indicators of risk. In past cases of atrocity crimes, we have seen an early pattern of attacks against civil society, including human rights defenders.
The international community can encourage the development of a vibrant national civil society, which includes a prominent role for women and youth, and support the development of national and community-based approaches to prevention. United Nations field presences play an important role in supporting civil society.

Manojlovic: Which initiatives do you see as the vanguard of genocide prevention and how can they be supported?

Dieng: What I’m going to say is not new but I must insist on it because we are still far from putting words into action. We must increasingly look at genocide prevention as a strategy that implies a daily effort of building resilient societies that will be able to navigate safely through periods of crisis or tensions. Instead, we tend to pay attention only when crises are escalating to serious levels of violence.

Nothing is more effective than early action, focused on preventing the manifestation of risk factors, instead of trying to deal with them when they are already evident. Addressing nascent tensions between different communities at the local level through mediation and conflict resolution is so much easier than separating warring parties once conflict has erupted.  

States must invest in building resilience, and in developing national architecture for prevention, by which I mean national institutions based on respect for the rule of law and human rights that will serve all communities equally, without discrimination. The international community must support states in this endeavour. It is much cheaper to invest in this kind of preventive action than to try later on to rebuild fractured societies with institutions and infrastructures that have been destroyed by armed conflict.

Manojlovic: Is a world without genocide and atrocities possible in our foreseeable future?

Dieng: Of course a world without atrocity crimes is possible. We know which factors increase the risk of genocide and other atrocity crimes. We know what kind of societies are most susceptible to these crimes and we know what needs to be done to reduce the risk and protect populations. This is a shared responsibility. Too often, however, the strategic interests of states have been used as a barrier to action, even when those states have made a political commitment to prevent atrocity crimes. This is not acceptable. We need to see more political and moral leadership.

Manojlovic: Is there anything else that you would like to add?
Dieng: I wish there were more institutions like the School of Diplomacy that research genocide prevention and support our initiatives!

Manojlovic: Thank you Mr. Dieng and I wish you the best of luck in your work.

Categories: Nation and World

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