10 December 2014

4 weeks of reflections on 100 years on war, genocide and mass violence

In order to commemorate the centenary of the beginning of World War I, the 75th anniversary of the start of World War II and the 20th commemoration of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda that targeted the Tutsi minority, various international and local organisations worked together to curate a series of featured events to commemorate and reflect on these momentous world events.

Between 11 November and 10 December 2014,  lectures and panel discussions by international academics, authors and filmmakers, as well as film screenings, education workshops and a theatre production took place in Johannesburg and Cape Town

SAHA supported this programme of events by hosting two panel discussions, and facilitating a pilot workshop for history educators on the SS Mendi at Constitution Hill

REPORT BACK: Panel discussion: Mass Crimes against Civilians and International Responsibility - 19 November 2014

On November 19, SAHA hosted a discussion at Constitution Hill in Johannesburg between Chris Landsberg of the University of Johannesburg, Stefan Liebich (deputy of the Left Party in the German Bundestag), Yasmin Sooka of the Foundation for Human Rights and Howard Varney from the International Center for Transitional Justice.

In a lively discussion, ably moderated by David Williams, a journalist with CNBC Africa, the panellists exploried the issue of mass crimes and genocide from multiple perspectives, including from a legal, diplomatic and human rights lens.

Professor Chris Landsberg drew attention in his presentation to alliances of impunity, highlighting the millions of deaths in the DRC that has scarcely drawn any interest from the rest of the world. He cautioned against narrow conception of mass violence in terms of the numbers killed, drawing attention instead to the devastating psychological consequences for broader society.

Yasmin Sooka considered the changing nature of armed conflict - from the impact of technology, including the use of drones, to the globalisation of law since the Nuremberg trials. 

Stefan Liebich spoke to the international community's obligations in terms of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P), highlighting both the need to both prevent conflict, using military intervention only ever as a last resort, and contribute towards reconstruction after conflicts. 

Howard Varney considered the state of crisis marking international criminal justice today - only one conviction from the International Criminal Court in 12 years, with indictments confined to Africa - and argued for greater prosecutions of perpetrators to challenge impunity. 

REPORT BACK: SAHA workshop on the sinking of the SS Mendi - 22 November 2014

SAHA worked with  to participate in a workshop on the historic sinking of the troopship SS Mendi during the First World War, one of South Africa's worst marine tragedies in which more than 600 troops, many from the last contingent of the South African Native Labour Corps sent to support the war effort in Europe, perished in the English Channel in 1917.

Facilitated for SAHA by Siobhan Glanvill, the workshop drew on existing materials in the SAHA archives, primarily collected in the course of the SAHA / Sunday Times Heritage Project, and showcased in Great Lives, Pivotal Moments

Discussion was rich and the workshop well-received:

Thank you for organising the workshop. I really learned a lot about the First World War, the SS Mendi and the issue of war and peace.

Very thought-provoking and professional. Thank you!

Let's have more of these conversations!

Based on the feedback from the participants, SAHA will be revising the workshop materials to produce a booklet for educators - this booklet will be launched in February 2015. 

For feedback on other events taking place in the course of the month, 

LECTURE: “The Rwandan Genocide in Historical Context“ by Stephen Ellis

Report on Ellis’ Public Lecture at WISER by Fredson Guilengu

Report on UNISA screening Claude Lanzmann’s The last of the unjust.

 „Reflection on 100 years of war, genocide and mass violence“.  Message from renowned French Filmmaker Claude Lanzmann