“Not Just a Slogan”: An Interview with Tibi Galis, Executive Director of the Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Reconciliation, on Genocide Prevention
Michelle Eberhard, Human Rights Studies program at Columbia University
1 August 2013
Established in 2007, the Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Reconciliation is dedicated to the creation of an international genocide prevention network. To fulfill its mission, the Institute has developed several education programs, most notably its Raphael Lemkin Seminar, as well as a genocide prevention network in Latin America in 2012. Following the signing of an agreement with the African Union in February 2013, the Institute will soon be developing a similar network amongst African countries. Below is an interview with Executive Director of the Auschwitz Institute, Tibi Galis.
In February, the Auschwitz Institute signed an agreement with the African Union to establish the African Network for Genocide and Mass Atrocity Prevention. In light of the current continental conflicts, including those in Syria and Mali, what do you see as being the greatest obstacles for effective implementation of the initiatives outlined in this agreement?
The international climate of conflict, and focusing on ongoing conflicts, can be very obstructive to a continent-wide initiative focusing on prevention. We’ve seen this a lot, especially in governmental attitudes towards longer-term policies that focus on prevention as opposed to crisis management. Of course, for natural reasons, crisis management is prioritized, and the Auschwitz Institute wants countries to prioritize crisis management. At the same time, that prioritization sometimes translates into giving up on preventive policies altogether, which this program wants to make sure is not an acceptable position for its participating governments. The greatest challenge, I believe, will be to make sure that governments understand the need for longer-term policies oriented specifically towards prevention.
What is your response to individuals who say that it is impossible to prevent genocide, or who think the only way to prevent such atrocities is through military intervention?
The response I usually offer is that genocide prevention needs to be understood not as an action, but as a process, like any other political, long-term process. Genocide can be prevented, and we have the proof of that within societies that function and do not break down into spaces for permanent war between groups. (…)
How have the Auschwitz Institute’s programs, particularly the Raphael Lemkin Seminar for Genocide Prevention, been successful in their mission of preventing genocide?
What we have found is that the institutions that have been engaged with the Raphael Lemkin Seminar and with the Auschwitz Institute for a long period [of time], have actually managed to pull through and establish changes in the way they work that resulted from the knowledge imparted through the Seminar and through subsequent collaboration. Many of our participant institutions have refocused their policies to include more group-related policies [and] more assessments of risk-related situations [for minority groups] in their society, and we think that contributed to reshaping policy in those countries, towards the groups that are at risk.(…)
Considering everything the Auschwitz Institute has contributed to the field of genocide prevention, which of its accomplishments are you most proud?
I think what we are most proud of at the Auschwitz Institute are really our contributions to the existing trend of establishing national mechanisms for genocide prevention (…)I think the [national-level policies] of genocide prevention is one of the big steps that humanity has taken to make “never again” a reality, and not just a slogan.
See full interview here.