Wots Spotlights

  • Abdalmageed Haroun

  • Ellen J. Kennedy, PH.D

  • Sharon Silber

  • Abdalmageed Haroun

    Abdalmageed Haroun says: “Let us say together: no more genocide and no more ethnic cleansing in the world.”

    Taimur Ahmed, Bennington College class of 2013, chose Abdalmageed Haroun as a Watcher of the Sky:

    “I met Abdalmageed Haroun at an NYC Coalition for Darfur meeting. Born in Darfur during the conflict, Haroun became involved with humanitarian endeavors at a young age, eventually working for number organizations. Haroun now resides in New York, continuing the struggle for peace as chairperson of Human Rights and Advocacy Network (HAND), and a member of the NYC Coalition for Darfur. Through his persistence and consistency in efforts towards breaking the cycle of violence in Darfur, Haroun truly is a Watcher of The Sky.”

    What is your connection to the conflict?

    I born in a conflict area in Sudan call Darfur, the area in west Sudan, so my connection with the conflict is for a long time.

    When and how did you begin humanitarian work towards ending the violence in Sudan?

    I began humanitarian work since 2004 when I joined as volunteer with small group sending aid to the civilians in conflict areas, and that time I was a second year in college. I got connected to this work through Christian friends – from that time I became more interested in helping the others that needed help. [I went] from volunteer to part time worker till I became full time. I travel to all areas and regions in Sudan with different organizations, such as Care International U.S, The Carter Centre U.S, International Rescue Committee U.S, etc.

    You are a chairperson of the Human Rights and Advocacy Network for Democracy (HAND), an organization focused on peace building in the ‘grey zones’ of Darfur. What is a ‘grey zone,’ and what steps are being taken to accomplish the organization’s mission?

    Yes I am the chairperson of HAND and we are working to accomplish the mission and main goals of HAND are to:

    • Fill the gaps of Human Rights reports in Sudan.
    • Train the youth group and build their capacity.
    • Advocacy and lobby for democracy and human rights in Sudan internationally.

    How effective is the UN in the prevention of crimes against humanity in the Darfur Region?

    This is very complicated because the UN peacekeeping mission are looking for protection themselves and those they should protect – the civilians in Darfur. We, as activists, we criticize UN and their role to protect the civilians in Darfur, and we always keep asking for more intervention in Sudan to protect the civilians, like the UN [did] in Libya.

    If you were to give the younger generation advice on how to get involved with breaking the cycle of violence, what would it be?

    My advice to them: to be more involved internationally. We are on this Earth as human beings and we should protect others looking for protection. And let us say together no more genocide and no more ethnic cleansing in the world.

  • Ellen J. Kennedy, PH.D

    Dr. Kennedy says: “Genocide is not a natural disaster like a hurricane, earthquake, or tsunami. It is man-made, and as such it can be prevented.”

    Rachel Nordlicht chose her as a Watcher of the Sky:

    “I chose Dr. Kennedy as a Watcher of the Sky because I am impressed with her full time efforts to fight against Genocide. Dr. Kennedy has completely immersed herself in a cause we all believe in and that moved me. As founder and Executive Director of World Without Genocide (www.worldwithoutgenocide.org), Dr. Kennedy is in the trenches day by day working on practical steps to contain the current genocide in Darfur as well as prevent future genocides. Dr. Kennedy’s organization is a nonprofit organization committed to protecting innocent people around the world; preventing genocide by combating racism and prejudice; advocating for the prosecution of perpetrators; and remembering those whose lives and cultures have been destroyed by violence. Dr. Kennedy promotes Holocaust and genocide education in high schools, colleges, faith-based organizations, and civic groups and advocates with elected officials at city, state, and national levels.”

    Interview conducted by Rachel Nordlicht:

    Q: Given the seemingly unstoppable cycle of violence from the Armenian tragedy to modern day Darfur, do you foresee a time in the future whereby we can eliminate genocide in its entirety or do you believe we may have to settle for minimizing it’s scale?

    EJK: I believe that there can be a world without genocide. The aftermath of the Holocaust saw a great change in the concept of national sovereignty when the Allies, together, created international tribunals to adjudicate the worst of the perpetrators. After the Cold War, we again had international tribunals to prosecute perpetrators of the genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, former Yugoslavia, Sierra Leone, Bosnia, Kosovo, East Timor, and Lebanon. These tribunals, however, are all temporary, created to address the crimes committed in specific conflicts. In 2002 the International Criminal Court was formed, which is a permanent international body to investigate and prosecute genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity occurring since 2002. In addition, the United Nations passed a resolution in 2005, known as the “‘Responsibility to Protect,” which states that when countries are either unwilling or unable to protect their own citizens, it is the responsibility of the global community to intervene to protect them. Three years after that resolution, the United States empanelled the Genocide Prevention Task Force, headed by former United Nations Ambassador and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and former Secretary of Defense William Cohen to investigate steps that the U.S. could take to prevent genocide. Their report, issued in 2008, essentially provides a blueprint for U.S. action, to be taken on economic, diplomatic, and military fronts, to prevent genocide.

    Q: How would you advise the best way for young people, high school students, college students, get involved in the fight against genocide?

    EJK: The first step is education. People must understand what has happened in the past and what is occurring today. The issues that we see as global problems also exist in our own communities, and we must engage young people in advocating both locally and globally. For example, gender-based violence is a tool of genocide, first labeled so by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, when Jean-Paul Akayesu was found guilty of genocide because he instigated others to rape Rwandan women. Gender-based violence is not happening only in post-genocide Rwanda, or in Congo, or in Guatemala, but also in our own communities. Similarly, the trafficking in illegal weapons aids, abets, and fuels conflicts in all parts of the world – and in our own neighborhoods, as homicide rates continue to escalate throughout the U.S.

    Another problem that exists both locally and globally is the terrible tragedy of sex trafficking, involving hundreds of thousands of people around the world – and women, girls, and boys in every state in the U.S. A similarly tragic problem is the use of child soldiers, the use of more than 300,000 youths around the world to perpetrate terrible violence on innocent people. The local version of this problem is bullying in our schools, neighborhoods, and towns, a problem of epidemic levels as those who are bullied commit suicide out of absolute despair.

    We need to get young people involved in advocating to end gender violence, use of weapons, bullying, and sex trafficking locally – and globally. Students can work to pass local, state, and national laws to prosecute those who abuse women, girls, and boys; to end the spread of handguns throughout the country; to legislate strong anti-bullying measures and severe punishments in all our schools for those who bully; and to prosecute those who traffic vulnerable people into prostitution and human slavery.

    Q: What are some practical steps you believe governments around the world can be doing more in the fight against genocide?

    EJK: Governments have to recognize that the costs of delivering humanitarian aid during crises, plus the costs of rebuilding nations after genocides, far exceed the costs of intervention. The responsibility to protect is not designed only for those at risk in a particular country; it is designed to protect all of us. There is no wall that can be built around a genocide to prevent its contamination throughout an entire region. The Holocaust, for example, affected 54 countries; the genocide in the former Yugoslavia likewise involved people from many, many nations. Genocides are risks on many levels: security, because of the widespread trafficking in weapons attendant on every conflict; health, because of the spread of disease as people are displaced and at great risk; environment, because genocides destroy agriculture and ruin the water and air; economy, as entire nations’ infrastructures are ruined and, in today’s globally-connected world, the financial repercussions are felt widely. Governments must understand the costs inherent in these various areas and must engage diplomatically, politically, and economically to pressure rogue governments to protect their own civil societies through robust and fair rules of law.

    Q: Your organization, World Without Genocide has as it’s motto “protect, prevent, prosecute, remember.” How critical is the remembrance of past genocide in the prevention of modern day genocides? Does it sometimes frustrate you that despite the well-documented atrocities of the past, genocide continues to exist?

    EJK: Remembrance is critical to prevention, because it is through understanding the past that we see the patterns and inevitabilities of actions that lead us to genocide. I don’t get frustrated by the occurrence of genocide, rather I believe that there have been some recent times and places where violence broke out and, because of world attention and action, genocide has been averted. A good example is the post-election violence in Kenya in 2007 and the similar post-election violence in Ivory Coast in 2010. The Responsibility to Protect is a dramatic change and, although slow to be implemented, represents a global change in norms regarding state sovereignty.

    Q: Can you point to a single life event that most influenced you to get involved in the fight against genocide?

    EJK: Yes. I went to Rwanda in 2005. I had met a young Rwandan woman, Alice, who was an orphan survivor of that genocide, losing her entire family – grandparents, parents, sister, and two brothers in 1994, when she herself was only 14. The next fall I was teaching about the Rwandan genocide in my sociology class. A student asked me, “What are we going to DO about this?” referring to situations such as Rwanda that are occurring today. The combination of meeting Alice, and my student’s question, spurred me to action.

  • Sharon Silber

    Sharon Silber says: “As Americans we are taught that all people are created equally, endowed with certain rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That education, as well as the diversity of our culture, gives us an obligation to speak out for people in places where oppression dominates public life, where people cannot speak for themselves.”

    Taimur Ahmed, Bennington College class of 2013, chose Sharon Silber as a Watcher of the Sky:

    Sharon Silber, Ph.D. has worked as a child and family psychologist for over 25 years, teaching at several New York area hospitals as a professor of child psychiatry, and conducting research in child abuse, developmental psychopathology and child and family responses to trauma.

    In 1998, Sharon founded the Jewish Ad Hoc Committee on Bosnia (JACOB), which later became Jews Against Genocide. In that capacity, she has worked to organize many events to educate Americans about genocide, as well as organizing vigils, demonstrations, civil disobedience and human rights lobbying around this issue.

    In 1997, Sharon was part of a human rights delegation to Bosnia that examined the conditions of life of survivors of Srebrenica, and she presented a paper at the first Sarajevo conference on genocide. The following year she returned to teach a course on the treatment of trauma at Tuzla University for local and international personnel working with genocide survivors. In 2000, she testified as an expert witness in the trial (in absentia) of Radovan Karadzic in U.S. federal court by the Center for Constitutional Rights.

    Currently, Sharon is co-director of the New York City Coalition for Darfur, one of the most active grassroots organizations for the Sudan in the United States and of DarfurMetro, a regional consortium of grassroots organizations in the tri-state area. In that capacity, she has met with the office of the Special Envoy to Sudan, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, and the UN Security Council. Sharon continues to organize educational events, demonstrations, and lobbying on behalf of Jews Against Genocide around issues of mass human rights violations in the Sudan, Congo and Burma.

    Interview conducted by Taimur Ahmed:

    Q: What has led you to take up the cause of genocide prevention and the treatment of trauma in your professional life?

    A: For me, the issue is a personal one. My father was born in a small village in Lithuania that was liquidated during the Holocaust along with the majority of its population. He was the only surviving member of virtually his entire family. The massacres claimed all the members of my father’s extended family, including his elderly mother and uncle and aunt who were so old and frail that they were taken by wheelbarrow to the place where they were executed. I grew up knowing people who had directly experienced the horror of genocide, as my life had been so dramatically shaped by the Holocaust.I also think that, as Americans, we are taught that all people are created equally, endowed with certain rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That education, as well as the diversity of our culture, gives us an obligation to speak out for people in places where oppression dominates public life, where people cannot speak for themselves.

    Q: You are a founding member of the NYC Coalition for Darfur. What are the organization’s goals and what steps are being taken to accomplish them?

    A: For many years, the Government of Sudan, led by Omar al-Bashir, has conducted a policy of violence, targeting civilians of certain tribes and ethnicities. We know Darfur as a place where genocide has occurred, but even before Darfur exploded as a place of systematic violence, the Sudanese government had already conducted genocide in several other areas of Sudan as well. The NYC Coalition for Darfur supports the deployment of U.N. peacekeepers in Darfur and works to pressure the Sudanese government and the U.N. to take action by raising awareness and inspiring grass-roots activism in the United States and elsewhere.

    Q: You are deeply committed to breaking the cycle of violence that shapes genocide. Can you think of any particular moment that has given you hope?

    A: In 1998, I founded the groups Jews Against Genocide with Eileen Weiss and a group of about fifteen others from Manhattan in response to the killings that were then going on in Bosnia. We found, to our surprise, that legislators were actually interested in what Jewish activists had to say about genocide. We expanded our work to East Timor, and we issued a 1998 statement about the situation in South Sudan in conjunction with a German rights group. We called for pressure to lift the blockade on food and medical supplies that the government of Sudan was using to starve the population of South Sudan as part of its counter-insurgency measures. Unfortunately, genocidal violence in the form of forced famine and deprivation of food and medical supplies is still extant in the region. The coming together of a small group of individuals with a common background and a unified goal, however, attracted the attention of local legislators. Given the nature of American society, utilizing our representative democratic system is one of the most effective tools a grass-roots organization can use, and my experience in this regard was very positive.

    Q: If you were to give the younger generation advice on how to get involved with breaking the cycle of violence, what would it be?

    A: Students, I believe, bring a special presence to this effort. The Darfur movement began largely as a student movement. I have met students and young people who actually know more about Sudan and the issues facing Darfur and South Sudan than do many of our government officials. With this in mind, young people and activists need to focus their attention on what is happening on the ground. They should work with existing authorities about formulating specific sanctions that can be implemented in conjunction with the Sudanese community and coordinated with the Sudanese community in exile. In a basic way, young people and activists can simply call 1-800-Genocide and contact their Congressional Representatives to express their views about genocide and how U.S. foreign policy should be shaped to better respond to the cycle of violence that genocide propagates.