This is the third in a series of four posts recapping Imagining the Unimaginable: Ending Genocide in the 21st Century, a symposium held yesterday at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC. The event featured a keynote address by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, two panels, and a presentation of the results of a poll on public perceptions of mass atrocity prevention. This post summarizes the second panel, Innovative Solutions in Responding to Future Challenges.
The number of silences, rounds of applause, and frantically tweeting fingers during the second panel was unparalleled in any of the other sessions. Leading a diverse group of speakers, Wolf Blitzer moderated the discussion much like he runs the Situation Room.
Off the bat, he brought up the question of how social media informs and shapes mass atrocities while they’re occurring. Fresh from reporting in Beirut, Arwa Damon, a fellow CNN reporter, jumped on the question, describing social media as the “lifeblood of the opposition.” Strive Masiyiwa, the Founder of EcoNet Wireless, seconded Damon’s positive view of social media by suggesting that the telecommunications revolution in Africa was a key recent event and questioning whether the genocide in Rwanda would have occurred with modern day social media. Sarah Sewall, Public Policy Lecturer at Harvard University, cautioned against overstating the importance of social media. Interestingly, while Masiyiwa and Damon were particularly interested in the role of social media as an organizing tool, Sewall focused more on how it informs activists elsewhere.
Much of the remainder of the panel after these initial questions was dominated by Richard Williamson, Senior Fellow in Foreign Policy at Brookings Institution. Specifically fixated on Syria and Sudan, Williamson supported toppling Bashir’s regime with a “coalition of the willing.” Referring continually to Assad and Bashir as “bad guys,” he tended toward a view of mass atrocity prevention as an “us against them” battle while dismissing other explanatory factors such as history, economics, or ecological crises.
After being prompted by Blitzer, the panel briefly discussed the possibility of assassinating the perpetrators of mass atrocities. Williamson was in favor of such an action while Sewall and Masiyiwa focused instead on the importance of international law and process. Sewall specifically emphasized the importance of a trial and “rule of law” to the victims of such atrocities, while Masiyiwa focused more on the need to retain moral high ground when dealing with aggressors.
Overall, the panel was indicative of the broad divergence of views about how best to respond to mass atrocities. Ranging from disagreements over social media, to assassinations, to even the question of where the anti-atrocities movement is now, the takeaway is that the movement is far from achieving consensus on, well, anything.