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UN special advisor speaks to students about genocide

'Doah photo by Zoe Rogers

‘Doah photo by Zoe Rogers

On Wednesday Dec. 4, Shenandoah University hosted a Genocide and Mass Atrocity Prevention Symposium to commemorate the upcoming 65th anniversary of the Convention for the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. The symposium was held in the Stimpson Auditorium in Halpin-Harrison Hall where keynote speaker Mr. Adama Dieng – the Special Advisor on the prevention of genocide to United Nations’ Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon— addressed an audience of students, faculty and the general public. Following the guest speaker’s presentation, Dr. Call, senior adviser of the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations and Dr. White, research director at the Center for the Prevention of Genocide, made their responses and invited the audience to participate in a round table discussion, moderated by Dr. Eric Leonard.

President Tracy Fitzsimmons introduced keynote speaker Dieng, telling the audience of the journey that brought the influential guest to S.U. Following a chance meeting with Shenandoah students, who were on a visit to United Nations Headquarters in New York City, Dieng made a promise that he would visit Shenandoah one day. The keynote speaker told the audience he was so moved by the passion and compassion displayed by Shenandoah students that day that he felt compelled to stand by his promise.

Prior to his role as special adviser on the prevention of genocide, Dieng served as registrar of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. The 1994 Rwanda genocide, which saw over 800,000 deaths in one hundred days, reminds us of the importance of early prevention of genocide. Dieng had left Rwanda two days before the genocide began and confesses that even he was unable to predict that genocide would take place. The guest speaker explained to the audience that, when it comes to prevention, early recognition and intervention is key and each one of us should play a role.

As Special Adviser, Dieng acts as an early warning mechanism to alert the secretary-general and United Nations Security Council of potential for genocide. Dieng also makes recommendations for actions to prevent genocide. The keynote speaker’s address highlighted the “constructive management of diversity” as a prevention strategy that all member states should adopt.  

Dieng reminded the audience that at the end of the 20th Century there existed a false common perception that the world would never again witness genocide. Following atrocities like the Rwanda genocide, many nations have resolved to prevent genocide from occurring again. In 2005, world leaders agreed on the concept of “Responsibility to Protect,” which focuses on preventing the four crimes of genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing.

Today, Dieng considers both Syria and the Central Republic of Africa to be at high risk of genocide. Indeed, the special adviser told the audience that, by March 2011, his office had already highlighted the ongoing crimes against humanity in Syria. 

Dieng’s keynote address, and the response from Dr. White and Dr. Call, presented a number of themes in this symposium. First was the importance of early prevention. Second was the importance of creating a cultural norm where differences are not just tolerated, but respected. Third was the role we all can play. 

In response to the keynote address, Dr. White emphasized that each one of us can play a role, in the prevention of genocide, by educating ourselves and “mobilizing pressure on governments.” If genocide is to be prevented, new norms must be established and we must be the ones to establish them.

For more information, visit www.un.org/preventgenocide/adviser. See also, the Centre for the Prevention of Genocide’s website www.ushmm.org/confront-genocide

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