Dozens of nonprofit organizations in Washington and hundreds of other organizations worldwide are now joining together to establish April “Genocide Prevention Month,” hoping to renew a post-World War II call of “Never Again.”
It is a remarkable coincidence that all six of the world’s worst genocides have major anniversaries in the month of April: Sudan, Bosnia, Rwanda, Cambodia, the Holocaust and Armenia.
Organizers met at a recent gathering of survivors, anti-genocide advocates, policy experts, and filmmakers. The panelists included a survivor of the Rwandan genocide, a Darfuri liaison officer, the head of Genocide Intervention, president of the Save Darfur movement, chief of Survivor Corps, and a senior program officer of the Center for Conflict Analysis and Prevention.
Jill Savitt, executive director of Genocide Prevention Project, one of the organizers of the event, told VOA Khmer in a phone interview that this was the first year they had gathered for “Genocide Prevention Month.”
There are “anniversaries of six genocides in the month of April,” she said. “We want to use that tragic coincidence to rally people around genocide prevention, so that what happened to so many people so tragically over the last century really does never happen again.”
The Bosnia massacre started on an April 6; in it, nearly 200,00 died. Fifteen years ago this month, Rwanda underwent a genocide that lasted for 100 days; nearly 800,000 died. April 17 is the anniversary of the Khmer Rouge’s rise to power; up to 2 million died. April 21 is the anniversary of the Warsaw ghetto uprising, now used as a remembrance date for the Holocaust; as many as 6 million died. And an April 24 saw the start of Armenian genocide, where an estimated 1 million died.
After the Holocaust of World War II, between 1938 and1945, world leaders made a pledge: “Never Again.” However, since then, genocides have still been committed.
National leaders often do not want to address these crises as they are starting, Savitt said.
“There begins to be marginalization of certain people,” she said. “Often there’s hate speech. There’s persecution because of identity, all kinds of restrictions that are put on people. So we can predict these crimes. But what happens is the international community waits and waits until the problem becomes too hard to stop immediately. Bloodshed is spilled. Then the positions have hardened.”
Savitt said courts such as the Khmer Rouge tribunal are crucial for bringing perpetrators to justice so that society is healed and reconciled.
“I know that the trials and the tribunal [in Cambodia] have seen their problems, but it is important that healing is to happen if the society is going to reconcile and be prosperous,” she said. “We cannot allow for crime to go unpunished.”
Vanthan Peou Dara, deputy director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia, said he was impressed with the gathering to kick off “Genocide Prevention Month.”
“The gathering among dozens of humanitarian organizations in Washington, DC, shows that we are working together to prevent genocides from happening,” he said.
Thun Saray, director of the rights group Adhoc, also acknowledged the importance of genocide prevention networks and suggested civil society organizations in Cambodia join.
Ordinary citizens also play an important role in helping prevent genocide.
Chhet Sarom, a victim of the Khmer Rouge, is now living in Phnom Penh. He has done his job to help bring the awareness of genocide to his family members and relatives, he said.
“I am just a small cell of society, so I cannot do something big, but I also have power to help prevent genocide,” he said. “I told my children and relatives that crimes of genocide were cruel in Cambodia, so that they know what happened.”
One man, who asked to be identified as Sarom, stayed mostly in Svay Rieng province under the Khmer Rouge. If he had a chance, he said, he would call for the international community to pay more attention to helping prevent genocides.
“The United Nations, which plays an important role, seems to have limitations,” he said. “When Pol Pol was killing people, the United Nations couldn’t see, could never see. When my hardship and suffering were desperate for help, no one helped. Talking about a larger scope, the United Nations should oversee every corner of the world so that these crimes can be stopped. These crimes in Cambodia have gone, but they are now committed in Sudan. The United Nations can never help in time, letting hundred thousands of people be killed.”
Sarom cried as he recalled the lack of the attention paid by the United Nations as the Khmer Rouge continued its rule. Democracy can prevent such genocide from happening, he said.
“I have experienced genocide; it is hard, suffering,” he said. “Brothers, sisters, nieces, nephew.” His voice broke as he spoke. “I lost many of them in Pol Pot’s regime, they had no guilt. They had power, they treated people terribly everywhere. My suffering is recalled whenever I hear of killings. I feel their pain because I have experienced it.”
Savitt echoed Sarom’s feelings, saying everyday people have a responsibility to stand up and speak out over what happened to them and to urge their governments to act.
“Ordinary citizens really are mandated to speak out when this crime is happening, as they are right now in Darfur, in Congo, in Burma, in Somalia, and other places,” she said. “It is up to those who have not been persecuted to stand up for those who are and demand the world leaders to act.”
Vanthan Peou Dara emphasized that people need to be aware of the cause of genocide and share their experiences with others across the globe.
“For ordinary people, it is important that they need to understand the roots of genocide, so that they can discuss and share among people within the country and across countries so that everyone around the globe is aware of the roots of genocide,” he said.
All three agree that the international community should make better efforts to prevent the genocide.
“We need our leaders, leaders of powerful countries, leaders of the United Nations, set up the way to get those early signs and act on them immediately,” Savitt said. “We could spare so much pain and bloodshed if we got in there earlier. It is less costly, more humane and more effective.”