Against a Tide of Evil: Why genocides happen and what we can learn to prevent future atrocities

2013-09-04

Ten years ago, a systematic campaign of attrition was unleashed against the people of Darfur. Despite the most expensive United Nations (UN) peacekeeping operation in history and an extensive African Union/UN political process, real peace has remained elusive and thousands remain displaced and refugees. Despite the historic referrals to the International Criminal Court (ICC), the indicted architects of the crimes remain at large.

Mukesh Kapila was Head of the UN in Sudan in 2003-04 and first drew world attention to the unfolding crisis in Darfur. He returned to Sudan earlier this year, and as the keynote speaker at this seminar, the aim was to share his insights on why we failed to stop the alleged first genocide of the 21st century in Darfur despite the lessons of the last genocide of the 20th century, in Rwanda, where he was also present. The seminar also highlighted the importance of individual accountability and collective responsibility in preventing such heinous crimes recurring elsewhere.

Kapila is now Professor of Global Health and Humanitarian Affairs at the University of Manchester and Special Representative of the Aegis Trust for the prevention of crimes against humanity. Formerly a senior British government official and undersecretary general of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, Kapila’s book Against A Tide of Evil was released in March this year.

In his opening remarks, ISS’s Acting Executive Director and chair of the seminar, Anton du Plessis noted that the history of humankind is scarred by many atrocity crimes committed by leaders, dictators, military officials and rebel movements against their fellow countryman. Despite global leaders’ condemnation and repeated promises of ‘never again’, and the existence of international, regional and domestic treaties and laws, and the ICC, these crimes happen again and again.

Recent events in Syria demonstrate that humans have a seemingly unlimited ability to inflict untold suffering on fellow humans. Africa has witnessed more than its fair share of grave international crimes, including genocide. The 1994 genocide in Rwanda was a watershed event for the continent. The reality dawned for Africans that the UN and foreign governments cannot be relied upon to ‘save the day’. Without local or regional responses, and a better informed citizenry, the risk of mass atrocities remains. As the crisis in Syria shows, this problem is not limited to Africa. International and domestic politics win out in the end, and the chances of a coordinated international response are almost non-existent.

As an internationally recognised expert on mass atrocities and what can be done to pre-empt and prevent them, Kapila has earned global praise for his work, including his recent book with the same title as this seminar. His courage under fire demonstrates that individuals can make a difference, especially when they hold senior and influential positions in governments and the UN. But they need to be fearless in the face of political pressure and know how to navigate the politics that inevitably surround these situations. Individual accountability can lead to global responsibility.

The debate on events in Darfur in recent years has demonstrated how sensitive and politically complex the issue is. The controversy surrounding the ICC’s indictment of President Bashir demonstrated just how divided African views on this matter are. ISS has published broadly on international crimes in Africa, and has hosted many events to consider the various perspectives. Building on this track record, the seminar provided a platform to critically discuss the views of an international expert who has been in the thick of things for over a decade.

To watch the video documentary 'Sudan's forgotten war Zones' by Mukesh Kapila, click here

Sudan's forgotten war zones

To watch the video 'Against a tide of evil' by Mukesh Kapila, click here

Against a tide of evil

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