February 28, 2017

Queen’s clubs expand the definition of genocide

First annual Genocide Awareness Week begins Monday

A map displaying countries that have or are experiencing genocides.
A map displaying countries that have or are experiencing genocides.
Photo: 

Queen’s Amnesty International (QAI) will spend next week redefining genocide through Queen’s first Genocide Awareness Week.

The week will include a speaker series on Tuesday, featuring Major Brent Beardsley, who was present in Rwanda during the 1994 genocide as part of a UN peacekeeping force; Ayub Nuri, a Kurdish Iraqi journalist and member of PEN Canada; and Brendan de Caires, programs and communications coordinator for PEN Canada.

Beardsley, Nuri and de Caires will speak about how they’ve been affected by genocide and how to tell when genocide is going to happen.

There will also be a film screening on Thursday of Shake Hands With the Devil, which is about the Rwandan genocide.

QAI worked with Queen’s STAND, which works to bring awareness to and prevent genocide, and Not For Sale Queen’s, which works to combat human trafficking, in developing the week and its events. Queen’s International Justice Mission, a Christian organization that fights sex trafficking and sexual violence in Canada, is also lending volunteers to the week’s events.

Alex Butterfield, QAI president, said she became interested in the topic of genocide when she visited Rwanda this summer.

“Just kind of learning about genocide and learning through my politics classes and travelling just how all genocides follow the same pattern … if you look at all that has gone on in the 20th century, they all follow the same pattern more or less,” Butterfield, ArtSci ’15, said.

“It’s just very easy to predict when it’s going to happen, and it’s preventable.”

She said there are currently nine genocides going on around the world, including ISIL’s ethnic cleansing of minority groups in Iraq and violence in Myanmar against the Rohingya and other ethnic minorities.

Butterfield said most people outside politics, or who don’t do research into genocide, are unaware of what counts as genocide — for instance, they may not know that killing political opponents, forced starvation or taking children from their families are forms of genocide.

“I think that Queen’s students overall do care about these issues and they are passionate about them and they do want to help, they’re just not given the information,” she said.

“When you’re told a whole bunch of people are being killed, it’s hard to be like, ‘well, what can I do?’ It’s very much that fact of like — small fish in a big pond.”

QAI, like the wider Amnesty International organization, conducts mass letter-writing campaigns, and Butterfield said government officials respond differently to receiving five letters than to receiving 50,000 — if there’s mass pressure with a flood of letters, they’re more likely to capitulate to the campaign’s request, like getting someone off death row or freeing them from prison entirely.

She added that one in 10 campaigns are successful, including one on an environmental bill brought to Parliament that would have affected Aboriginal lands and have “damaging effects”.

Amnesty International conducted a campaign asking for the bill to be revised.

“Because so many Canadians wrote in, the bill has now been taken off the table and they are making changes to it,” she said.

Ultimately, QAI is looking to educate students, she added.

“We want to just spread awareness around the Queen’s campus,” Butterfield said.

“If there’s any way you can prevent another genocide from happening — I think that’s very important.”

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