Mariana Salazar Albornoz is the Director for International Humanitarian Law in the Legal Advisory of Mexico’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. She has worked in the Ministry for the past 10 years, in the fields of human rights, international humanitarian law and international criminal law. She attended the November 2012 Global Edition and the June 2013 Latin American Edition of the Lemkin Seminar, plus our May 2013 alumni meeting in Arusha, Tanzania. She has also been an instructor at the June 2013 Latin American Edition and in the December 2013 Global Edition of the Lemkin Seminar.
Why are you so dedicated to the field of genocide and mass atrocity prevention?
Ever since I was in law school, I was fascinated by international law and by its ultimate purpose. The aftermath of the Second World War gave rise to a myriad of international organizations, norms and institutions dedicated to protect humanity and save succeeding generations from the atrocities that occurred during the war. I strongly empathize and believe in those objectives, and the more I learned, the more grew my interest in this field.
Today, that interest has become a passion. I furthered my studies in international law and then my professional and academic activities in the fields of human rights, international humanitarian law and international criminal law. They are all related branches, as their centerpiece is the protection of the life and dignity of human beings.
While many advances in this these areas have been achieved, much more work is still needed in order to reach the common objective of effectively preventing mass atrocities in the world. I am deeply convinced that this objective requires joint action by all of us as members of society, from our different standpoints. Building a non-discriminatory and inclusive society where human beings coexist in peace begins at home and must extend to all our areas of activities. By working in this field, I wish to contribute to this common endeavor, placing my actions at the service of my beliefs and hopes for society.
What actions and policies do you feel are most effective in the long-term prevention of atrocity?
As a lawyer, I believe in the power of norms. However, reality shows that having adequate norms in conformity with international standards is not enough if they are not effectively applied by society. Herein lies the greatest challenge, because effective application can only be achieved by a society that not only understands and participates in the content of norms but also has a genuine belief in what they pursue.
Cultivating this belief, or, in other words, promoting a culture of human rights and mass atrocity prevention, is a slow and steady process that requires joint participation of all members of society. I believe that education is an essential tool for this purpose, and that it must begin at the earliest stages, both at home and at schools, and continue and adapt to the ever-changing needs of each society and culture.
Dialogue is also important to this purpose. At the international level, exchanging information between States fosters the sharing of best practices as a means for advancement. At the national level, dialogue between governmental and non-governmental actors promotes common understanding and coordinated efforts to address human rights challenges.
What does a day or week in your life’s work look like?
My work at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs involves daily follow-up to the developments occurring in the international fora related to the topics under my responsibility, such as the United Nations, the Assembly of States Parties of the International Criminal Court or the International Conference of the Red Cross and the Red Crescent. I am in close contact with Mexican delegates abroad and with government and non-government actors within Mexico, and constantly prepare input for Mexico’s position in these fora and participate in conferences and educational activities on these topics.
Also, as Technical Secretary of the Inter-Ministerial Committee for International Humanitarian Law (IHL), my role includes close interaction and joint work with the governmental agencies involved in the Committee as well as with the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Mexican Red Cross. This Inter-Ministerial Committee is in charge of the follow-up to the Latin American Network on Prevention of Genocide and Mass Atrocity, supported by the AIPR.
The Lemkin Seminars, in which various government officials have participated, have positively influenced our work at the Ministry and within the Inter-Ministerial Committee. As a consequence of the training received, the Inter-Ministerial Committee is proud to have included the topic of mass atrocity prevention in the 2013 and 2014 editions of its Annual Specialized Course on IHL, which is open to participation by all actors of society. We have also participated in trainings on mass atrocity prevention for military officers. Finally, on April 23 and 24, 2014, our office organized a specific Seminar on International Tools for Mass Atrocity Prevention, with speakers from the AIPR and the UN and participants from all sectors of society.
Last but not least, the influence of the Lemkin Seminars have led me to become a professor of genocide and international crimes at one of Mexico City’s universities. Teaching and learning from students in this field has been a true inspiration to my everyday work in these topics.
Who or what inspires or motivates you?
Through the Lemkin Seminars, I have had the opportunity to meet survivors of genocides and mass atrocities from Rwanda, the Former Yugoslavia and from the military dictatorship in Argentina. In international fora and within my own country, I have heard testimonies of victims of human rights violations and have seen the debilitating effects these violations have had upon them. I am constantly inspired by the courage and strength of these victims and survivors who, having lost loved ones or limbs or having undergone tremendous suffering, gather the strength to share their testimonies as a means to promote a human rights message in the world.
I have also been moved by the visits we have done through the Lemkin Seminars to the Auschwitz concentration camps and other places of memory, which have helped me to better understand the process of mass atrocities and the importance of early prevention and warning.
Finally, I am grateful to be constantly inspired throughout my professional life by many dedicated professionals, judges, diplomats, academics, teachers, activists and students, who truly go to extraordinary levels in the pursuit of human rights objectives, and whose beliefs and dedication embody these ideals.
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?
I believe it is very important to study and learn constantly. Genocide and mass atrocity prevention is a broad field that combines legal, political, educational and other tools, both at the international and at the national levels. It is very important for a government official to know these tools and to fully understand the way in which his/her particular field of work can have an impact in them.
I also consider it very useful to keep close coordination with representatives from other government offices, victims, academia and the civil society. Building upon existing efforts can be very positive. In most cases, there are existing programs and plans in fields such as human rights, rule of law, humanitarian law or development, that provide useful platforms which, when used in combination, can contribute in the efforts for mass atrocity prevention.
Finally, I would emphasize the importance of the human touch. Not losing sight of the human factor that underlies prevention work is very important in order for a government official to stay motivated and action-oriented, and to be able to propose creative actions.