Early warning mechanisms vital to preventing genocide, says UN adviser

Roundtable discussion

8 November 2007 – The best way to prevent genocide from occurring is to ensure that early warning measures are in place and used before the key phase of incitement to violence can begin, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for the Prevention of Genocide and Mass Atrocities said today.

Francis Deng told a round-table discussion at United Nations Headquarters in New York on combating hatred that incitement to violence “is a hallmark and perhaps a prerequisite of genocide,” citing the examples of the Holocaust against Jews in Nazi Germany, the killings of Bosnian Muslims in the former Yugoslavia and the massacre of Tutsis in Rwanda.

“People do not spontaneously rise up en masse to kill – incitement by their leaders is a key step in the process,” Dr. Deng said, noting that incitement only works when prejudices already exist in a community or society.

He stressed that incitement to violence serves as an early warning signal for genocide or mass killings that can easily be detected.

“In universities, research institutions, human rights and humanitarian organizations, increased attention is being given to incitement to violence, its potential impact on the public, and the need for preventive action. The most effective prevention should come long before incitement has put potential killers on the verge of genocidal violence.”

Dr. Deng, who was named to the post by Ban Ki-moon in May, said the UN, governments and other institutions and entities should also work towards implementing a political, economic and social framework in countries around the world that provides full respect for all human rights and fundamental freedoms.

This, coupled with improving governance, boosting economic development and promoting inter-ethnic and communal tolerance, would help to foster an environment in which tensions are reduced and groups are less likely to seek violent responses to their grievances.

Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information Kiyo Akasaka noted that today’s discussion was taking place one day before the sixtieth anniversary of Kristallnacht, a violent pogrom in Germany and Austria against Jews and their homes, businesses and synagogues.

The round-table discussion, which was organized by the Holocaust and UN Outreach Programme, also heard from five other speakers on fighting hatred, promoting grassroots dialogue and the responsibility of governments to protect people – whether in their own country or not – from mass atrocities.

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