Conference Agenda

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Session Overview
Session C4 4: Approaching Acts and Laws
Thursday, 22/July/2021:
5:30pm - 7:00pm

Session Chair: Henry Theriault, International Association of Genocide Scholars, United States of America
Location: Room 4


Confronting Structural Violence: Employing Atrocity Prevention Frameworks in Law School Classrooms

Carse Ramos

Rhode Island College, United States of America

While there are increasing trends towards interdisciplinary approaches, lawyers often find themselves on the frontlines of efforts to both prevent and reconcile with genocides and other mass atrocities. This holds true whether we are talking about wars or extreme human rights violations globally or issues of police brutality and the legacies of racial oppression in the US. Despite the critical role of lawyers, there is little to no attention paid given to these subjects in traditional legal pedagogy—to the extent that such discussions occur, they are most often found in niche, upper-level seminar classes into which students self-select. This presentation will begin by focusing on the implications of this grave omission, arguing that introducing atrocity prevention and structural violence frameworks into mainstream legal curricula is critical in order to keep pace with the tragic events unfolding on a seemingly daily basis. The presentation will then introduce and discuss Cardozo Law’s Combating Structural Violence initiative (of which I am part) that offers concrete methods and materials to incorporate critical discussions on identity issues (e.g., race, gender presentation, citizenship status) into the teaching of common law school courses. At this point, I plan to primarily discuss our modules for Criminal Procedure and Constitutional Law; however, as the project progresses, this may change.

Truth Commissions and Their Contributions to Atrocity Prevention

Kerry Edward Whigham

Binghamton University, United States of America

Over the past four decades, transitional justice has transformed from an emerging field to one that has become quite normalized within the international human rights regime. In particular, truth commissions have emerged as one of the components of the standard approach in making transitional justice a reality in post-atrocity contexts. To date, researchers and practitioners have focused significantly on improving the procedural aspects of truth commissions to ensure that they uncover the realities of what occurred during their investigatory mandates, protecting and promoting victims' right to truth in the process. Far less attention has been devoted to understanding how and if truth commissions contribute to the prevention of future violence. At the center of this research project lies the hypothesis that truth commissions can contribute to mass atrocity prevention, though they do not always do so. Truth seeking exercises are not in themselves preventive, but only if attention is paid to ensure they respond to and seek to diminish the risk factors related to mass atrocity violence in each particular context. The research looks beyond the widespread assumption that truth commissions (and transitional justice more broadly) are innately guaranteeing the non-recurrence of the violence in response to which they are created. This presentation will outline the results of an in-depth, mixed methods research project that has evaluated 50 cases of truth commissions from 1974 to the present, comparing them with 54 negative cases, in which internal political conflict occurred without a subsequent truth commission. Risk indicators from both sets of cases were compared longitudinally to uncover correlations between truth commissions and risk mitigation. This quantitative analysis was supplemented with in-depth qualitative research into eight specific truth commissions in seven countries. The results demonstrate that truth commissions may, in fact, contribute to a decline in atrocity risk in some cases.

Legalization of jus cogens norms in sub Saharan Africa

Stacey Mitchell

Georgia State University, United States of America

It has long been noted by Fein and many others that certain state-sponsored crimes (“life integrity violations”) constitute a slippery slope towards genocide. But what are the conditions under which the legalism of prohibitions on political crimes such as killings and torture take place? How do we measure legalism? Just because a country ratifies the ICCPR or the Torture Convention does not mean the prohibited behavior will not occur. Likewise, because killings or torture may occur in a country does not mean that country is headed for a genocide. I argue that legalism is appropriately conceived of as a matter of those factors that create obligation on the part of state actors. Relying on the framework for legalism created by Brunnée and Toope (2010), I suggest that three inter-related elements–shared understandings, criteria of legality, practice of legality—are necessary for a jus cogens norm to assume obligatory status domestically. Using qualitative and quantitative methods I test Brunnée and Toope’s model on the 46 countries of sub-Saharan Africa, for the period between 2005-2018, examining a variety of factors (economic, political, international) that influence the legalism of laws prohibiting political killings and torture. Moreover, I introduce a number of quantitative measures of legalism, including media integrity and judicial independence. The goal of this study is to increase understanding of why jus cogens prohibitions find greater grounding in some countries and not others, and what this means for genocide prevention and education efforts.

The Impact of Atrocity Prevention Legislation: Taking Stock of the Elie Wiesel Genocide and Atrocities Prevention Act and the Global Fragility Act

Jack Mayerhofer

Auschwitz Institute for the Prevention of Genocide and Mass Atrocities

The role of legislators is an area of genocide prevention that has gained increased attention. Furthermore, given the dangers of social media for disseminating disinformation and even facilitating atrocities, coupled with legislators’ growing desire for industry regulation, parliamentarians will only become a larger actor in prevention efforts in the digital age. Until recently, legislative action relied primarily on MP’s individual capacity to advocate for prevention through their speaking privileges and supervisory functions. This was due to the fact that legislation for universal atrocity prevention did not exist within national legal frameworks. However recent developments, particularly within the US, allow us to consider the impact of prevention legislation not as a theoretical question, but as a reality. This presentation will address the impact of the Elie Wiesel Genocide and Atrocities Prevention Act (GAPA) and the Global Fragility Act (GFA) for atrocity prevention. Equally importantly, it will highlight where these laws have fallen short and offer recommendations for increasing their efficacy. This conference comes at an opportune moment as the GFA and GAPA have been law for one and two years respectively. Furthermore, the Global Fragility Strategy (GFS), which guides the more than $900 billion multi-regional, multi-national, 10-year implementation plan of the GFA was released only one month ago. This is significant given that one of the greatest criticisms of GAPA is that it did not authorize any funding to achieve its aims. Given the raft of legislative developments of the last two years, combined with the recent nomination of Samantha Power as Administrator of USAID, the lead implementing agency for the GFA, now is a critical moment to take stock of what impact these laws have had for atrocity prevention and to identify recommendations for how they can better work in concert to deliver a comprehensive approach for early atrocity prevention.