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During the Second World War, six to twenty million Jews died because of anti-Semitism. In Rwanda, there were 800,000 to two million people, mainly Tutsis, slaughtered within 100 days, where 500,000 women were raped. According to medical reports, two-thirds of women tested positive for HIV after the genocide. Meanwhile, in Cambodia, three million people were killed between 1975 and 1979 by the regime led by Pol Pot. During the Bosnian war, more than 100,000 people were killed, which was the largest European massacre since the Holocaust eg. Shoa (meaning “catastrophe” in Hebrew). It can be said that atrocities like the Holocaust did not happen in the distant past, in fact, the last genocide in Darfur where 400,000 people have been killed started in 2003 is ongoing to this day.
United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said that “history keeps moving forward, but anti-Semitism keeps coming back.” He said that after the Holocaust there was a willingness to find a more cooperative way, which led to the creation of the UN, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Genocide Convention. He added; “Humankind dared to believe that tribal identities would diminish in importance. We were wrong. Irrationality and intolerance are back.” Today, anti-Semitism, racism, anti-Muslim hatred, xenophobia and other forms of intolerance are rising, which are triggered by populism that is gaining ground in public discourse. In 2014, hate crimes that were motivated by religion, racism and homophobia in London rose by twenty percent. For those reasons, remembering the Holocaust is hugely important, because we do not want to repeat those crimes.
All states around the globe share a collective responsibility for addressing the traumas of the past, maintaining appropriate remembrance policies, promoting education, caring for historic sites, documentation and research. This responsibility includes education about the causes, consequences and dynamics of those crimes in order to strengthen the resilience of society against ideologies of hatred. Because genocide crimes keep reoccurring across several regions, this has never been more relevant. We live in a rapidly changing, globalized world which creates a need for certainty that young people become responsible global citizens. In order to play a role in shaping the future for the better, young people need to have a better understanding of the past. An appreciation and understanding of the past can support efforts to create a just and free society.
The knowledge about Holocaust and other genocides can inform broader understandings of mass violence globally, and highlight the value of promoting ethics, human rights and civic engagement that fosters human solidarity at the local, national, and global levels. The Holocaust shows the risks of unchecked prejudice, dehumanization and discrimination. It also illustrates the full range of human responses, thereby raising crucial considerations about individuals and society and reasons that lead people to act that way, or not to act at all.
There are many different options for teaching about the Holocaust. It requires an understanding of how these events occur, including warning signs and human behaviours that make genocide possible. Before it developed to a genocide, the Holocaust started off with abuse of power in the sense of gross human rights violations, systemic discrimination and marginalization of minorities, in a climate of extreme nationalism and exclusionary propaganda. The study of the Holocaust can lead to a reflection on how atrocities happen and the role that individuals, institutions and society can have in recognizing and responding to the warning sign.
There can be important lessons learned such as that all societies and institutions are fragile, and even though they are supposed to protect the security and rights of all, they can be turned against a segment of society. It is therefore crucial that those people in leadership positions reinforce humanistic values that protect and preserve free and just societies. There are also aspects of human behaviour that affect all societies, which is susceptible to scapegoating and has a desire for simple answers to complex issues. There is a risk of extreme violence and the abuse of power in social and political relations as a result of peer pressure, fear, indifference, greed and resentment. There are also demonstrated dangers of prejudice, discrimination and dehumanization that can be in the form of racism and intolerance. Finally, teaching about human possibilities in extreme and desperate situations is also important. By understanding the actions of victims and perpetrators and bystanders who, due to various reasons, may ignore, tolerate or act against hatred and violence, it can raise an awareness about the power of resistance, resilience and solidarity in local, national and global contexts.
It is important to provide learners with tools for critical inquiry about what makes genocide possible and to understand the role of human rights and active citizenship in today’s communities. Therefore education with a focus on history and civics education plays a key role in addressing the past, whilst promoting the skills, knowledge, attitudes and values that help prevent the occurrence of group-targeted violence. UNESCO’s work, for instance, promotes Global Citizenship Education (GCED), that aims to empower individuals to assume active roles to face and resolve global challenges and to become proactive contributors to a more tolerant, peaceful, inclusive and secure world.
Teaching about genocide and mass atrocities remains difficult, due to the scarcity of educational materials and guidance. Any program should emphasis empathy, critical thinking and individual moral responsibility. Mutanguh and Mpayimana, for instance, explore historical examples, focusing on the genocide of the Tutsi and of the Jewish people through a “Sustainable Peace Model/Framework” which seeks to link genocide education (looking back) to genocide prevention (looking at the present) to peace-building (looking forward). Mr. Thomson, the President of the UN General Assembly, said: “Interfaith dialogue, respect for human rights, and the embracing of democratic and humanist values at the heart of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are central responsibilities for us all. Young people must be taught the ethics and logic inherent in defending our common humanity, of preventing mass atrocity crimes, and of bringing perpetrators to justice,” he added.