International Conference in Stockholm Focuses on Preventing Genocide

Hédi Fried
Stockholm, Sweden

The Stockholm International Forum series began in 2000 with a conference on Holocaust Remembrance, Education and Research. Subsequent annual meetings focused on Combating Intolerance and promoting Justice and Reconciliation, respectively. These meetings have brought together world leaders, academics, researchers and the survivors themselves to address matters that had never been mutually discussed. The fourth and final meeting in this series, Preventing Genocide: Threats and Responsibilities, held January 26–28, 2004, was attended by more than 1,000 delegates from 55 countries, international organizations and nongovernmental organizations. This was the first international meeting to address this crucial issue since the adoption of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide in 1948.

The 2004 program opened with a presentation by Swedish Prime Minister Göran Persson, who pointed out that despite the cry of “never again,” the international community had failed to prevent new acts of genocide in countries such as Rwanda, which was commemorating the 10th anniversary of its national tragedy. He urged delegates to narrow the gap between commitments and action.

In his keynote address, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan proposed that the UN establish, as an early warning system, a special committee to monitor for early signs of genocide. He also urged the appointment of a special rapporteur reporting directly to the secretary-general. He stated that these measures are designed to deny the UN leadership the option of saying (individually or collectively) that they simply did not know and to “clear the link, which is often ignored until too late, between massive and systematic violations of human rights and threats to international peace and security.” In his concluding remarks, the secretary-general stated that “...as an international community we have a clear obligation to prevent genocide. I believe that collectively we also have the power to prevent it. The question is, do we have the will?”

The plenaries and workshops that followed explored a number of related issues, including the role the media has played (both positive and negative) in past incidents of genocide and the responsibility it bears for attempting to prevent future incidents. A panel entitled In Dealing with the Aftermath: Breaking the Cycle of Hatred and Violence considered that even when the international community has failed to prevent genocide, it remains morally obligated to participate in “tertiary prevention” by preventing relapse after the initial killing ends. Such prevention requires the rehabilitation of society through justice and reconciliation. Education and memorialization were noted to be core components of national and international responses that should proceed in coordination with national and international judicial responses. Former Australian Foreign Minister Gareth Evans stated that the International Criminal Court, which was specifically created to try crimes against humanity, would actively pursue this work. The re-establishment of physical and political safety was seen as prerequisite to meaningful reconciliation. Other specific recommendations made included training diplomats and field professionals in victim trauma and providing psychotherapy and practical resources, such as health care, for genocide survivors. These are areas in which the involvement of ISTSS members may be especially helpful.

A panel on Education for Prevention called for a broad educational agenda that targets children as well as adults and incorporates religious as well as political and social dimensions of the complex task of teaching people that they can live together. Gender-

specific considerations may be especially important in confronting these issues. A Genocide Prevention Center was envisioned to tackle this international educational effort.

In summarizing the academic outcomes of the conference, Stephen Smith, PhD, reinforced the need for research on the outcomes of genocide and the importance of listening to survivors in order to prevent new acts of genocide.

The conference culminated in a declaration, which included commitments to:

Visit http://www.preventinggenocide.com for further information about the 2004 Stockholm Forum (including the text of major addresses and a set of useful links).

Hedi Fried, a psychologist who lives in Sweden, lectures and writes about the Holocaust and the mechanisms of evil.