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2021 Global Raphael Lemkin Seminar – Online Edition

From March 22 to May 2, the Auschwitz Institute for the Prevention of Genocide and Mass Atrocities (AIPG) organized the first online edition of its Global Raphael Lemkin Seminar for Genocide Prevention, developed with the support of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, the Foundation Remembrance, Responsibility and Future (EVZ), and the Claims Conference. The 2021 online edition of the seminar welcomed 23 international attendees from Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Fiji, Germany, Ghana, Honduras, Indonesia, Ireland, Kenya, Luxembourg, Mexico, Montenegro, Romania, Tanzania, Thailand, Uganda, and the United Kingdom. The discussions were facilitated by AIPG’s instructors, and were monitored by an independent evaluator and an academic observer. A complete list of participants and the seminar’s agenda can be viewed here.

The Global Raphael Lemkin Seminar for Genocide Prevention is grounded in the belief that preventing genocide and other atrocity crimes is an achievable goal through the recognition of signs and symptoms as well as stakeholder preparation and commitment. The 2021 Lemkin Seminar came in the form of a 6-week online program that featured a unique virtual tour of the Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II–Birkenau concentration and extermination camps that was developed in collaboration with the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum. The virtual tour consists of archival images, video materials, and two interactive maps of the camps, allowing the participants to virtually experience the “power of place.”

The first week of the seminar’s curriculum was dedicated to analyzing the Holocaust as a process, introducing participants to the historical context and examined the Final Solution. Theoretical and historical analysis of the Holocaust undertaken during the initial days of the seminar was complemented by the virtual tour. Afterwards, participants had the opportunity to engage with the Museum’s renowned expert and Director of the Center for Research at the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, Dr. Piotr Setkiewicz, who responded in detail to their questions.

The following week of the program included an overview of the concepts of genocide, mass atrocities, and their prevention. The module began with the introduction of Raphael Lemkin’s fundamental work  a Polish-Jewish lawyer who first coined the term genocide and spent his entire life working for its codification in law through the passage of the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide  before participants examined legal definitions of genocide and the other categories of mass atrocities: crimes against humanity, war crimes, and ethnic cleansing. The week ended with a presentation of AIPG’s three-phase approach to mass atrocity prevention.

During the third week, participants were introduced to primary or “upstream”  atrocity prevention. Upstream prevention measures focus on analysis that takes place before atrocity violence occurs. This analysis centered on the longer-term governance, historical, economic, and societal factors that leave a country at risk of genocide and other mass atrocities. The week concluded with a discussion of the concept and established norm of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) and its three pillars.

Participants focused on secondary or “midstream” prevention during the seminar’s fourth week. Approaches to midstream prevention include strategies that can be used to stop mass atrocities when upstream prevention has failed and crises have begun to unfold. The week ended with a discussion of the wide range of tools available in the midstream prevention “toolbox,” including political, legal, economic, and military.

The following two weeks were dedicated to tertiary or “downstream” prevention. Downstream prevention measures can be used after large-scale violence takes place, as societies begin to rebuild. Downstream efforts foster resiliency by dealing with the acute long-term consequences of mass atrocities. The fifth week of instruction introduced participants to the concept of transitional justice, which encompasses a variety of legal and other means by which a society can address past atrocities and human rights violations. These discussions covered processes that shape downstream prevention, especially those related to the pursuit of truth and justice, as well as reparations and other reforms.

In the sixth and final week of the program, attendees learned about the role of memory as a vital component of transitional justice and prevention. Participants examined the significance of memory within the context of downstream prevention and its relationship to ideas of truth and justice. The program concluded with a closing discussion about different initiatives that focus on the role of memory, such as civil society activism, historical dialogue, education programs, arts, and sites of memory, as well as key aspects of the politics of memorialization.

The active participation of attendees including their ability to adapt to the remote learning format of the 2021 Raphael Lemkin Seminar created opportunities for many vivid and constructive conversations and were essential to the success of the online program. Dr. Gabriela Ghindea, Program Director of the Raphael Lemkin Seminar for Genocide Prevention, explains:

In 2021, the Auschwitz Institute organized the first online edition of the Global Raphael Lemkin Seminar for Genocide Prevention. One of AIPG’s longest running programs, the Lemkin Seminar, has been intimately connected with the unique “power of place” of the former Nazi Concentration and Extermination Camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau in Oświęcim, Poland. However, like the rest of the world, we had to adapt our programs to the extraordinary circumstances of the ongoing pandemic. 

I am proud to report that our team, in partnership with the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, has risen to the challenge of recreating the atmosphere of this special program in a virtual environment. This allowed participants to immerse themselves, both emotionally and intellectually, in the topic of genocide prevention and provided them with a framework for discussing these vital topics. The productive discussions held throughout the program have given me hope that, despite the disruptive times we are living in, essential dialogue on atrocity prevention has not been interrupted. I am inspired by the work and vision of all of the participants and honored to welcome them into our growing AIPG alumni community!