Ms. Felistas Mushi is the Chairperson of Tanzania’s National Committee on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide, Crimes against Humanity, War Crimes and all Forms of Discrimination. She attended AIPR’s November 2011 Global Lemkin Seminar as well as the 2013 Lemkin Seminar Alumni Meeting in Arusha, Tanzania.
Why are you so dedicated to the field of genocide and mass atrocity prevention?
I happened to work as a Magistrate in my country and also in the prosecution of high-level military officials accused of genocide in Rwanda. These two posts taught me just how important prevention of crimes is. It is fair and just that the perpetrators of crimes be prosecuted and punished. But that will not bring back to life those were victims of those crimes, nor does it replace the loss suffered by the families. The dead will always remain dead; the wounded will always remain with physical, psychological and emotional wounds; widows and orphans will always remain so. It is, in my opinion, much better to prevent than to cure, as they say.
I do feel that it is everybody’s responsibility to see to it the world is a safe place to live for everyone. It starts with an individual, including me. Knowing that my work in prevention will make a difference, however small, and the fact that I am not alone in this, gives me the drive to push on.
What has been your major work in genocide and mass atrocity prevention?
Under the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) Protocol for the Prevention of Genocide, all national Focal Points have a responsibility to ensure that national mechanisms are established in their respective countries for the prevention of genocide and mass atrocities.
As Tanzania’s Focal Point, I took this responsibility very seriously and am proud to say that my country was the first in the region to establish a national committee for the prevention genocide and mass atrocities with me as the chair of that committee.
That was just a beginning of many activities related to prevention. Apart from setting up the structures and work plan of the committee, we have so far conducted Peace Forums in six regions of Tanzania Mainland and Zanzibar. This is a major achievement accomplished in collaboration with the Office of the Special Adviser.
We have also conducted public awareness programmes through television and radio with the assistance from The Swiss Embassy in Tanzania. In the next two months, we are also going to have three Peace Forums in three more regions of Tanzania Mainland.
Moreover, as Tanzania’s Responsibility to Protect (R2P) Focal Point, I have worked in close collaboration with the Regional Forum for the Prevention of Genocide (PG) Member States in organizing the Fourth PG Forum in Cambodia in March 2013, as well as a High Level Working Meeting of R2P Focal Points in Dar es Salaam that same month. I also participated in the national R2P Focal Points meeting in Accra in June 2013.
The High Level Meeting in Dar es Salaam hatched an idea of a global action against mass atrocity (MA). This idea found support in the Accra meeting and many other R2P and PG forums and it has given birth to the much awaited first meeting of the Global Action Against Mass Atrocity Crimes (GAAMAC) to be held in Costa Rica.
I am very proud to be associated with this groundbreaking initiative which I am sure will usher in a new era of prevention of MA with many more countries, institutions and individuals taking part.
What actions and policies do you feel are most effective in the long-term prevention of atrocity?
Any action or policy that makes a State execute its responsibility under Pillar I of R2P – like establishing national mechanisms towards the prevention of mass atrocities and allocate requisite resources to make it functional, or create deliberate academic policies to include prevention of MA in lower and higher levels of education – will go a long way in changing the negative attitudes and unwanted behaviors that develop into warning signs of MAs.
What does a day or week in your life’s work look like?
A weekday starts with me in the office by 07:30 AM. My work as an Assistant Director of Legal Aid keeps me busy handling public complaints, liaising with the legal Aid Secretariat, attending management meetings, representing the Minister or Permanent Secretary in various meetings, plus writing reports and legal opinions. As a Human Rights Focal Point in the Ministry, I handle human rights-related issues that come before the Permanent Secretary, particularly those falling under the National Human Rights Action Plan, wherein I am a member of the national coordination committee. I am also a Focal Point on children issues and have been working on a Child Justice Strategy. I am happy to inform you that on the 10th of December, 2013, the National Human Rights Action Plan and the Five Year Child Justice Strategy were launched by the Vice President bringing to an end three years of preparatory work! My role now is to oversee and coordinate the implementation of both initiatives.
How has your work impacted a specific individual or group of people?
In all the regions where we have conducted Peace Forums, the participants who are religious leaders have been so sensitized that they formed their own peace platforms. Even in areas where it was least expected to have religious leaders of different religions and denominations sit together and agree on anything, we have witnessed a very positive change that brought all of them together in strategizing on preventive measures.
For a government official who may be just entering the field, what advice do you have to give towards impactful and effective work in genocide prevention?
First, personal and government commitment; second, research; and most importantly, find a way to relate with the people and engage in more people-oriented educative methods. The people need to fully understand the implications of genocide and its prevention.