The Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Reconciliation – working to build a world that prevents genocide

08.11.2019

Rob Scharf

Since 2008, the Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Reconciliation (AIPR) has worked on a global scale, using the experience of leading atrocity prevention experts to equip government officials with the essential knowledge that they need to understand and confront the warning signs of genocide and other mass atrocities. More than a decade of curricular development has allowed AIPR to operationalize the identification of critical risk factors and provide officials with concrete tools to respond to these warning signs before they can gain deadly momentum.

Working on a global scale

With offices in New York, USA; Oświęcim, Poland; Buenos Aires, Argentina; and Kampala, Uganda, the Auschwitz Institute works alongside government officials to empower them with the capacities to design, implement, and sustain effective preventive policies and frameworks. Over the last 11 years, the Auschwitz Institute has trained and provided ongoing support to 5,150 officials representing 86 countries around the world.

The importance of sites of past mass atrocities

The power of Auschwitz – its impact, memory, and legacy – transcends the site itself and inspires all of AIPR’s programming. To this end, the Auschwitz Institute prioritizes the implementation of educational, training, and capacity-building programs on sites of past atrocities in order to harness the “power of place” that they provide. This creates unique opportunities for a combination of foundational learning and the creation of enduring personal commitments to prevention by participating officials.

Regional solutions, not universal ones

Integral to AIPR’s approach is the recognition that mass atrocities, and the warning signs that precede them, often look different in different parts of the world. Thus, the Auschwitz Institute operates under the assumption that there is no singular or universal policy prescription for effectively addressing the threat posed by atrocity crimes. This drives a programmatic emphasis on the development of regional solutions to regional challenges and reinforces the importance of building networks among neighboring States ­– a part of AIPR’s mission.

Programs oriented toward maximizing prevention

The Global Raphael Lemkin Seminar, AIPR’s longest running program, brings these concepts together in the form of a week-long foundational training seminar on the grounds of Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland. The success of the Global Lemkin Seminar has formed the basis for AIPR’s two largest initiatives: its regional programs in Latin America and Africa. The former of these has, in turn, inspired the inception of the Latin American Network for Genocide and Mass Atrocity Prevention, which United Nations Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide Adama Dieng has called “a vibrant, solid, committed, and leading actor in the global architecture of genocide and mass atrocity prevention”.

The Auschwitz Institute also maintains a robust array of programming in the United States of America and a burgeoning initiative in the Mediterranean Basin, which has an initial focus on the Balkan region. Beyond this, AIPR houses a program devoted to the development of curricula and public policy related to early childhood education and offers a variety of online courses that extend the reach of its seminar curriculum to those who are unable to attend in person.

Kenya – working to support the development of policies that reduce the likelihood of large-scale electoral violence

Insight into the manner in which the Auschwitz Institute’s approach is put into practice can be gleaned from a look at the work it has done in collaboration with the German Federal Foreign Office in 2016 and 2017 to provide atrocity prevention-based training and technical assistance to the National Committee for the Prevention and Punishment of the Crimes of Genocide, War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity, and All Forms of Discrimination of Kenya (KNC) – an inter-ministerial body of Kenyan government officials and civil society experts dedicated to atrocity prevention. This series of programs, which served as a continuation of many lines of work that AIPR has undertaken with the Kenyan national government since 2013, bore a heavy emphasis on strategies for dealing with the past.

Given the country’s particular history of electoral violence, with especially alarming rates of violence surrounding the 2007-08 election cycle, the run-up to the General Election held in August of 2017 represented a vital moment for preventive efforts. In order to best assist with this, AIPR provided the KNC with training and technical support related to the development and implementation of policies that reduced the likelihood of perpetuating cycles of large-scale electoral violence. AIPR also provided assistance to bolster on-the-ground efforts made by KNC members, including the development of an informational notice that was distributed to residents in high-risk areas.

Using memory for atrocity prevention

After contributing to a Committee planning meeting the month prior, AIPR organized and assisted with the implementation of a benchmarking meeting and retreat for KNC members in Kigali, Rwanda in March of 2017. This program included a series of field visits throughout Rwanda, allowing members of the KNC to visit several significant sites of memory related to the country’s 1994 genocide. During this week-long visit, KNC officials also met with Rwandan specialists on memorialization, dealing with the past, memory, and education in order to better inform their own domestic efforts. These field visits were followed by a subsequent training seminar in May, which gathered a range of experts to assist the KNC in translating some of the lessons learned from their experience in Rwanda into the Kenyan context. This program included specific modules on the role that memorialization and transitional justice can play in preventing future cycles of violence, as well as the development of memory projects, such as a “Never Again” memorial in Nairobi, which will be dedicated to preventing future violence.

 

More information on the Auschwitz Institute and its programming can be found at www.auschwitzinstitute.org.

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Author

Rob Scharf, Historian and Director of Communications at the Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Reconciliation

Issue: Prevention

Transitional Justice sees itself as genuinely preventive. What can be done to strengthen its prevention capacities?