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Between March 12-19, 2023, the Auschwitz Institute for the Prevention of Genocide and Mass Atrocities (AIPG) made a long-awaited return to hosting our flagship Global Raphael Lemkin Seminar for Genocide Prevention on-site at the former German Nazi concentration and extermination camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau in Oświęcim, Poland, for the first time since 2019. The long-awaited return of the program to Oświęcim and Kraków (Poland) benefitted 50 attendees from 25 countries worldwide: 24 participants, 11 fellows-in-residence, 10 AIPG instructors, and staff members, three external observers, a special guest speaker, and an independent evaluator. They all enriched AIPG’s growing community of State officials and practitioners who are educated in the latest genocide prevention policy strategies and support each other in identifying best practices for dealing with the process of mass atrocities. The agenda for the 2023 edition of the Seminar and the list of attendees can be consulted here.
The Seminar was organized in partnership with the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, with assistance from the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, sponsored by the Foundation "Remembrance, Responsibility and Future," and supported by the German Federal Ministry of Finance. It also benefited from the support of the UN Office of Genocide Prevention and Responsibility to Protect, and the inspiring presence of special guest speaker and AIPG alumna, Ms. Alice Wairimu Nderitu, UN Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide.
The Global Raphael Lemkin Seminar for Genocide Prevention has been a pillar of AIPG’s programming since 2008, convening in its framework so far participants from 92 countries. It is grounded in the belief that preventing genocide and other atrocity crimes is possible if actors at several levels of society are prepared and committed to recognizing and combating risk factors for mass violence before it occurs.
The first two days of the 2023 Seminar were grounded in the “power of place” of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the most notorious Nazi concentration and extermination camp complex. Participants received instruction through interactive introductory modules on the concepts of genocide, atrocities, and prevention, as well as through historical modules on the Holocaust and the socio-political context that enabled it. These modules emphasized the importance of analyzing mass atrocities as processes and highlighted the many turning points during the process. The classroom instruction was complemented by guided tours of the camps Auschwitz I and Auschwitz-II Birkenau, and by a visit to the St. Maximilian Kolbe Centre at the Franciscan Monastery in Harmez, which houses the harrowing artwork of Marian Kołodziej, a Polish Auschwitz survivor.
The next three days of the Seminar were structured around three stages in a continuum of prevention strategies – primary, secondary, and tertiary. On Wednesday, participants completed a practical exercise on the role of identity in genocide and mass atrocity prevention, followed by modules on the psychology of perpetrators and on the role of propaganda as incitement to genocide. The day closed with a discussion of the role of national mechanisms in mass atrocity prevention and a small-group exercise on regional network mapping.
On Thursday, participants attended modules on sexual violence and genocide and current crisis spots around the world. The second part of the day was dedicated to response tools and an applied discussion on frontline challenges in Bosnia and Herzegovina. On Friday, participants learned about various transitional justice processes, accompanied by discussions on the opportunities and challenges of dealing with the past from a mass atrocity perspective, the silencing and distortion of genocide, and the preventive role of memory and memorialization in post-genocide societies.
The final day of the Seminar opened with a capstone simulation exercise that gave participants the opportunity to put into action the concepts, strategies, and best practices they had learned throughout the week. AIPG closed the program with remarks and updates on further support, opportunities for continued training, and engagement with the Auschwitz Institute.
Dr. Gabriela Ghindea, Program Director of the Raphael Lemkin Seminar for Genocide Prevention, remarked:
Through this unique Seminar, AIPG has fostered ceaselessly an alert learning community preoccupied to determine and implement effective strategies to make Never Again a reality. In challenging situations, we have also understood that this community is one of kindred spirits. Hilde Domin, a German Jewish poet, left us a wonderful life-affirming advice for dire times: “Never abandoning oneself nor another -that is the tiniest utopia, without which it is not worth being human.” We have been honored and grateful to discover that many of our alumni share this guiding principle both in their professional and personal lives!
Roland-Sylvestre DAWA is a Legal Lecturer and Researcher at the Faculty of Legal and Political Sciences at the University of Bangui in the Central African Republic (CAR) and a Ph.D. student in International Relations, specializing in international politics at IRIC Yaoundé in Cameroon. He has participated in three AIPG online training courses and in-person training sessions on the prevention of genocide and identity-based violence.