Mr. Masni Eriza, Counsellor of the Permanent Mission of the Republic of Indonesia to the United Nations, attended AIPR’s November 2012 Lemkin Seminar. Mr. Eriza joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Indonesia in 1995 and was first posted to the Indonesian Embassy in Budapest, Hungary. Work experience with this Embassy, which also covers Croatia and Bosnia Herzegovina, gave him his first glimpse into the importance of conflict prevention. After finishing his second overseas posting to the Consulate-General of the Republic of Indonesia in Osaka, Japan, he took the position of Deputy Director for Humanitarian Affairs, Directorate of Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs, within Indonesia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In this role, he covered issues including disaster management, refugees, and international humanitarian law, with particular attention to the protection of civilians during armed conflicts. In January 2014, Mr. Eriza was transferred to his current position at the UN Mission in New York City, where he now lives.
Why are you so dedicated to the field of genocide and mass atrocity prevention?
Time and again, whenever conflicts occur, civilians who usually have nothing to do with the conflict fall victim to the atrocities that follow. As we are aware, today’s conflicts are often fought in urban areas, where the risks to civilians are much higher. It is really heartbreaking to see that there are high numbers of civilian casualties in today’s conflicts. If parties fully understand that civilians are not supposed to suffer the consequences of the hostilities they cause, there would be fewer victims. Prevention, therefore, is the keyword.
What has been your major work in genocide and mass atrocity prevention?
I am actually a “newbie” in this particular field. Prior to my assignment to the Indonesian Mission to the United Nations in New York, I was Deputy Director for Humanitarian Affairs, which, among other responsibilities, covers the issue of protection of civilians in conflicts. The position put me in a position to be directly involved in the dissemination of International Humanitarian Law to relevant stakeholders in Indonesia, including the military and academic institutions.
My participation in the Lemkin Seminar in November 2012 made me realize that the issues of mass atrocity prevention and the protection of civilians in conflict are very closely related.
What actions and policies do you feel are most effective in the long-term prevention of atrocity?
For countries that have previously experienced mass atrocities, I think the most important thing is to acknowledge and recognize that something terrible happened in the past. It is wrong to deny it. Not only does it hinder the chance of reconciliation, denial also makes it impossible for the next generation to learn important lessons towards preventing future atrocities. History needs to be written honestly and truthfully.
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?
Awareness campaigns are an absolute must. Government officials and community leaders need to be taught to sense and detect any potential for mass atrocity within their own community. Mass atrocities do not happen suddenly. There must be sparks that, if not dealt with at once, could escalate into something much more difficult to handle. In this light, I think the work the AIPR has been doing – especially in campaigning against genocide and mass atrocities – is very valuable. I would really like to see the AIPR cast a wider net, to reach more people. That way, it will amplify voices towards better awareness and increase opposition to genocide and mass atrocity.
What are you most proud of in your work?
The highest satisfaction is in knowing that you could actually influence people, towards the ideals and values that you believe are true. Being a diplomat assigned to a country means that you have to meet a lot of people, from different walks of life. If that country is close to yours, be it geographically, or culturally, then the work will not be so hard. But when you are assigned to a country where the people know next to nothing about the country you represent, that is the challenge that needs to be dealt with. Making them understand your country, comprehend why your country takes a certain stance is the challenge. Once you succeed, that, to me, is the ultimate satisfaction.