MIGS Conference: The Responsibility to Protect

The Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies (MIGS) celebrated the 10th Anniversary of its program the Responsibility to Protect on October 20 and 21. The conference featured some of the key players in the international arena, such as Dr. Frank Chalk, Kyle Matthews, and the former Prime Minister of Canada Paul Martin among many others.

Some called the MIGS conference “a conference of conscience,” but in my opinion, the conference had a political agenda that lacked the human story and the reality of what leads to a genocide and surviving a genocide.

The speakers emphasized the idea that the state in many instances has failed to protect its own citizens and therefore, it is the responsibility of the international community to step in and intervene. There was no mention of building infrastructure or investing in human capital, which is ultimately what is needed to prevent a genocide from happening.

Dr. Frank Chalk, director of MIGS, discussed the significance of the social media, such as Twitter and Facebook. According to Dr. Chalk, the world has not yet learned how to make proper use of the various social media tools to prevent a genocide. Inherent in that belief is the assumption that Facebook and Twitter can prevent a genocide from happening. In many parts of the world, where there have been crimes of mass atrocities, people suffered from dire poverty, lack of infrastructure and social injustices, and “technology” was simply not present. In most developing countries, especially in regions prone to crimes of mass atrocities, cell phones are far more common than a computer and no, these are not smart phones or iphones.

The speakers at the conference discussed the Arab spring and the role of social media in bringing about a “revolution” in the Arab world. The reality is that the social media had very little to do with the Arab Spring. While Facebook might have provided the initial place to gather, it was in fact the people on the ground, the foot soldiers, that made it happen. It was the oppressive policies and lack of economic and development opportunities that angered people enough to make it to Tahrir Square in Egypt. Turning a blind eye to the decades of “official” support to oppressive regimes and then suggesting the international community needs to intervene in the time of crisis was the message that did not resonate with me. The message could not have been clearer in the opening address by the keynote speaker, former Prime Minister of Canada, Paul Martin, who talked about the need to invest in the military.

Going back to the original message of the conference, the responsibility of the media to raise awareness on genocide and to protect those vulnerable to crimes of mass atrocities, one could not help but wonder why the Journalists for Human Rights was not represented at the conference. The JHR, in its limited capacity, has been training journalists in developing countries on how to report on these important social and political issues. In addition to those who work in the field, also missing from the conference was the voice of those who have survived a genocide.

While the conference was definitely an initiative in the right direction, the work on raising awareness needs to be more inclusive and representative of what is being done and what needs to be done in order to protect people from being victimized in a genocide.


Photos by Chris Zacchia (top 2) & Jay Lemieux (bottom)

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