Teimuraz Antelava, Director for Public International Law at Georgia’s Ministry of Justice, attended AIPR’s November 2011 Lemkin Seminar, Global edition. His deep-rooted commitment towards the prevention of genocide mass atrocities shines brightly through his work.
Why are you so dedicated to the field of genocide and mass atrocity prevention?
One’s dedication to something is always assessed in relative terms. Assuming that I cannot be exhaustively aware of how dedicated others are, it is thus difficult for me to claim that my dedication to atrocity prevention is particularly remarkable. That said, I do have my rationale for it. It seems to me particularly striking from the perspective of our age that in spite of accomplishing so much, in spite of creating and inventing so many wonderful things, we are still not only capable of resorting to the atrocious practices of primordial human societies, but often do so. In view of newly emerging, serious common challenges that are posed to our societies by climate change and other environmental processes–to name only a few–it seems to me that this kind of grave, massive and direct form of harm inflicted by men to men are especially dangerous. For by transposing ill practices of our past into our present, they put at risk our very future in its strongest, existential sense.
Those of us involved in various atrocity prevention activities often focus on situations of an immediate risk. Where such a risk exists this is certainly the right thing to do. But at times, I find it useful to think of our work in a broader context, to see how a situation of an immediate atrocity risk could get that far. And if we think from an opposite end–not that of an immediate need for de-escalation, but that of tracing and identifying the sources of escalation–my answer is they are in the structure and the nature of a society in question. While it is not probably a task for each and every one of us to carry out a deep and comprehensive analysis of a certain society, there is a simple question that we can keep asking ourselves: is our society (or a society in question) developing inclusive political and economic institutions? That is, can we feel that our participation and our say over how we want our society to develop increases (or is fully sufficient)?
Only those societies that are constantly working on developing and maintaining inclusive political and economic institutions are at an adequate distance from the risk of atrocities. While the state of the inclusiveness is a dynamic continuum, each of us is capable of assessing whether in sum it is progressing into the right direction.
How has your work impacted a specific individual or group of people?
A serious, reliable assessment of the impacts of someone’s work requires an equally serious empirical study with comprehensive and reliable data. So my own assessment of my work can only be a set of personal impressions. But I would put it this way: my work cannot be broken down neatly into individual parts. It is rather that I am a part of the group of people, civil servants, and human rights activists–quite dedicated individuals–many of whom (and I do hope, most of whom) believe in the need of developing inclusive political and economic institutions in our society. I can see some results of our collaborative efforts and as far as I am not fundamentally misled now about the ongoing character of these efforts, there is more to come.
What does a day or week in your current position look like?
My professional duties include supervisory and representative tasks. The schedule is therefore usually split between managing and making sure that the office work is being done, and attending various meetings, conferences and other events. The balance between the time allocated to each of the two changes in accordance with demands of a particular time period.
Although with my current position I am no longer formally expected to produce office work of my own, I look forward to drafting documents that I believe are of a considerable importance for their future impact on human rights, justice and equality.
Who or what inspires or motivates you?
While there are quite a few individuals whose personalities and deeds serve as a source of inspiration for me, the biggest one by far is our thirst for our future. I believe that the world is an aggregate mirror image of how we all see it and that therefore none of the burdens of our past have an inevitable effect on our future. We are fully capable of making it as good as we want. We just need to fully realize this capacity.
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?
To beware of one sadly consistent aspect in all genocides and atrocities: none of them were carried out without either a direct or at least a substantial involvement of state machinery.
Professional environments can make our vision of a certain matter extremely one-sided. While it is important to deal with your professional tasks with affection and dedication–what often takes most of our time–it is equally important to spare an ability of cool-headed and critical judgment of the whole enterprise that you are involved in. A simple test to determine whether in sum the path pursued is towards more inclusive political and economic institutions may be of help.
Genocide and mass atrocities are not occurrences that appear out of the blue. The level of organization for committing them is hardly achievable without a very strong involvement from at least one state. While any effort towards preventing other states from doing so is more than commendable, a modest aim of keeping our own state away from it might be a good start.