“Why is genocide still happening, and what can we do to stop it?” – essay competition result

9 Dec, 2020 | 'Human writes', Education, Genocide, Latest

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Today – 9 December 2020 – is the 72nd anniversary of the UN’s adoption of the Genocide Convention. Mindful that, despite the Convention, genocides have continued, from Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia, Darfur, Myanmar to the current persecution of millions of Uyghur Muslims by the Chinese state, we asked:

Why is genocide still happening, and what can we do to stop it?

A lot of you replied. And we are lucky and very grateful that (Lord) Danny Finkelstein, of The Times, agreed to be this year’s judge.

He was impressed. Here’s what he says about the winner and two runners-up:

“All three of these essays were really good. They were each compelling in different ways and some of the writing was very fine. Susana Ferrin Perez’s essay was superbly done, pulling you into her argument with moving description and an arresting beginning. Meanwhile Natasha Collett makes a strong case that the bar for identifying genocide is set too high. It was a striking point, strikingly made.

But I have chosen as the winner Noah Lachs.

The winning essay is highly persuasive. Indeed in its clarity of thought and ideas it wouldn’t go too far to describe it as intellectually thrilling. That was its impact upon me, anyway.

The author is very much of the same mind as my grandfather, Alfred Wiener. Dr Wiener was one of the leaders of German Jewry in the 1920s and 30s and later the archivist of the anti-Nazi effort. His view was that central to combating fascism, was understanding it.

It is of course right that the best moment to tackle genocide is before it becomes genocide. And the essay is very convincing in its identification of the signs that ideas might turn genocidal. I thought the understanding of the role played by Kristallnacht was particularly brilliant.

I am pleased to recommend it to you as the prize winner.”

Noah Lachs – winner

Read Noah’s essay

  • Genocides do not happen ex nihilo. The ideas that propel them creep in among benign political commonplaces: legitimate grievances, collective identity formation, and promises of a better future
  • Violence does not begin with massacres of entire peoples – it begins with flickers of unchecked aggression
  • Prevention should be less about destroying concentration camps and more about ensuring the first bricks in such places are never laid
  • Dissolving borders between hostile social groupings is not bleeding heart liberalism. It is about resilience. It is the most fundamental form of early-stage genocide prevention
  • Perpetrators often reveal their cards and test the boundaries. When we are blind to the hands shown and when our boundaries are soft, we invite further violent plays
  • The levers to prevent genocide — before it looks like anything of the sort — are manifold. They are within reach of our governments, companies and multi-lateral institutions. It is about time we pull them

Natasha Collett – runner-up

Read Natasha’s essay

  • Naming genocide has become a complex legal process with an extremely high bar
  • Lemkin believed that genocide could be non-exterminatory – he witnessed an attempt in Poland in his lifetime to crush language, culture and faith, and for him this constituted an attempt at genocide
  • A collective failure to think and act could have genocidal consequences
  • The democratic institutions of a free press, free and fair elections and an independent judiciary can fend off these threats
  • In too many democratic states, we have also seen a growth in the use of inflammatory political rhetoric which pits people against each other

Susana Perrin Ferez – runner-up

Read Susana’s essay

  • It was there and then [the liberation of Auschwitz] that humankind pledged to remember, in its collective memory, the atrocities of the Holocaust so that it would never happen again
  • Government leaders, particularly in the EU and the US, ‘are not prepared to invest the military, financial, diplomatic, or domestic political capital needed to stop [genocide]‘”
  • Although international organisations, including the UN and the ICC, were founded upon the premise to protect human rights, they lack comprehensive support by powerful nations and the necessary infrastructure to tackle genocide
  • The policy has been one of silence and looking away
  • The prevention of genocide requires the use of both soft and hard power in the foreign policy of sovereign states and that cannot be achieved without political will
  • It is a matter of moral responsibility for the international community to prevent, halt and condemn violations of human rights, violence and mass atrocities

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