In an hour-long talk Monday night at Rackham Amphitheatre, Maria Stavropoulou, a consultant to the U.N. Special Representative of the Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide, defined genocide and outlined ways to combat instances of it around the globe.
“The legal term ‘genocide’ isn’t exactly the same as the term ‘genocide’ when we’re talking,” Stavropoulou said.
A mix of students and Ann Arbor residents attended the lecture, in which Stavropoulou explained that genocide includes a much broader range of atrocities than simply killing.
“The definition does not require the killing of a single person,” Stavropoulou said. “We can have genocide, in theory, without killing anyone.”
Stavropoulou defined genocide as intent to destroy national, ethnic, racial or religious groups, and said that acts outside of killing that constitute genocide can include ethnic cleansing and rape.
Audiences members said the nuances of the term as defined by Stavropoulou — despite its prevalence in everyday vernacular — were initially confusing.
“It’s slightly confusing because it doesn’t have to involve killings,” said LSA junior Alissa Ng. “The general consensus has been is that it only involves killings and wars, people don’t seem to know the rest.”
When warning signs of genocide arise, such as hate speech, the U.N. Department of Political Affairs, of which Stavropoulou is a member, becomes responsible for monitoring the situation and deciding whether or not genocide is taking place.
Stavropoulou noted that countries nearly always find themselves in denial in such situations, greatly slowing down the system and leading to inefficiency.
“The first thing that kicks in from a country is denial,” Stavropoulou said. “Countries also act in denial because they don’t want to commit troops or funding. The entire discussion starts to revolve around whether or not it’s a genocide, instead of what should be done to stop it.”
Stavropoulou named the International Criminal Court, established in 1998 and independent of the United Nations, as one of the most notable developments in fighting genocide.
Additionally, Stavropoulou said democratic governments preemptively fend off genocide, though the long transition period that often must occur for democratization is at times conducive to conditions that lead to genocide.
Stavropoulou said that oftentimes in international politics enacting change can be slow a process.
“Although the U.N. is made up of governments, it takes decades to advance just a little bit on anything,” Stavropoulou said. “It takes a very long time for the U.N. to act on these atrocious situations.”
Despite naming the many hurdles in combating instances of genocide, Stavropoulou stressed the U.N.’s commitment to such situations and the importance of maintaining a presence in at-risk areas, beyond when the subjects disappear from headlines.
“Any individual with sufficient power to commit or incite others to commit genocide is, for us (at the U.N.), somebody to be stopped.”
However, Stavropoulou said that the U.N. does not use watch lists due to the fact that if some regions are watched too closely, there is an inherent risk of forgetting about other areas.
“What is not on the radar tends to be forgotten, and that’s usually where the problems are,” Stavropoulou said. “If you look at various watch lists from the past few years, it’s the underreported situations where problems really tend to arise.”