Dr. Ariela Peralta is the President of Uruguay’s National Institution for Human Rights (INDDHH) and Office of the Ombudsman. She graduated with a law degree from the Universidad de la República (UDELAR) and has an LLM in International Legal Studies from American University. In addition to her work at the INDDHH, she has coauthored several books and articles as well appearing as an instructor and presenter at numerous national and international seminars and meetings. Dr. Peralta has recently served as an AIPR instructor at a national level seminar in Uruguay in 2015 and at the 2016 joint course on prevention with the Universidad Externado de Colombia.
What brought you to work in the field of genocide and mass atrocity prevention?
I enrolled in the School of Law and Social Sciences at Uruguay’s Universidad de la República Oriental while my country was suffering the oppression of the military dictatorship that took place between 1973 and 1985. At the time when democracy was restored, the majority of social organizations and unions had been destroyed, fragmented, or debilitated by the military forces that governed Uruguay. The country also had the highest number of political prisoners per capita. Since then, I learned the importance of the magnitude of the crimes that were committed – such as torture, forced disappearance, extrajudicial execution, and others, in addition to censorship and discrimination along ideological lines.
One of the most important lessons provided by history is that atrocity crimes, among them genocide, are not individual events, but instead processes that require planning. They begin with imperceptible acts of discrimination through which we begin to believe and convince ourselves that our identity is superior, distinct or worth more than that of others who are considered different. We begin to believe that others don’t deserve to enjoy the same rights as we do and that they have done something to deserve a cruel fate or to not be an equal member of the society in which we live. This process, which begins with acts of discrimination that are then justified, gradually elevates the idea that the “Other,” and those who are different, are useless and are our enemies. This idea then only needs a hierarchy, leadership, and supporters to take hold. Therefore, working against discrimination, and thus for the prevention of genocide, is a safeguard that contributes to a more just world.
What do you believe are the most effective actions and policies in the large-scale prevention of mass atrocities?
Generating a course of action with a strong state commitment which can be translated into a long-term strategic program of activities, with an integral, multidimensional, and interdisciplinary approach whose objective is, among others, the effective prevention of apologism for racial or religious hatred and violence, the eradication of structural and/or systemic discrimination that explains the vulnerability met by targeted groups; a change in conceptualizations, mental codifications, and the public attitudes of the political leaders and authorities in other areas of public life.
On another level, once such conflict situations have been generated, we must make use of early warning mechanisms, with diplomatic and legal strategies and tools, as well as those for mediation. Locale visits, technical cooperation, economic incentives, financial assistance, military cooperation and, on another scale, using coercive measures such as economic sanctions, international repudiation, withdrawal or expulsion from multilateral spaces, denouncement before international courts, zones of exclusion, etc., are other ways for managing conflict situations.
What advice would you give to new government officials who are just entering the field of genocide prevention?
I would say that, for the prevention of genocide, we should begin by understanding that coexistence in diversity can only be achieved through strategic alliances, joint efforts between counterparts, maintaining a participative and inclusive dialogue among social organizations, the institutionalization of human rights, the political and judicial systems, academia, experts, international organizations, as well as social activists, victims, and others.
The importance of designing actions, measures, and mechanisms to combat and prevent discrimination also includes the identification of discriminatory spheres and practices as well as obstacles to equality of opportunity, planning for reporting mechanisms and action for victims, and the creation of conditions for solidifying equality of opportunity. These actions, measures, and mechanisms require a contextualized analysis of relevant spheres as well as the population’s access to employment, education, public spaces, health services, justice, as well as the resources to make them effective.
What makes you the most proud of your work with the Latin American Network for Genocide and Mass Atrocity Prevention? What do you see as its strengths?
I am convinced that the Network is a marvelous alliance that makes us aware of the true significance of mass atrocities – from the point of gestation to where we must reinforce prevention policies. The level of the instructors, in terms of knowledge, practical experience, and their multidimensional perspective of the problem, is a powerful tool that allows us to reproduce what is learned and apply it in our mission and in the sense of daily personal and institutional responsibilities.
Who or what motivates you in your work?
The value of democracy, the firm conviction of working for quality of opportunity, the celebration of diversity and respect for human dignity in full equality. Examples of other people’s lives are a permanent source of inspiration and learning.