Are we failing to prevent atrocity?

By Joe Collins

Bosnia, Rwanda, Cambodia, Darfur, Myanmar, and now the persecution of the Uyghur people are widely cited examples of our failure to protect our neighbours. We can and must do more.

We are not preventing atrocity. The exact reasons as to why this is the case are deeply complex and it is something that cannot be readily or easily resolved. Yet despite the enormity of the challenge ahead, the task itself can be regarded in plain terms. Simply, are we prepared to tolerate our historical failure to prevent atrocity or are we prepared to instigate affirmative change? This question is one, I believe, our generation is tasked with answering.

The drafting parties to the United Nations Charter, in their promise of a brighter future, sought to ‘save succeeding generations from the scourge of war’ and ‘reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small’. Despite this promise, we have seen the proliferation of atrocity, not just in our recent history or our lifetime, but at the exact moment you are reading this.

Bosnia, Rwanda, Cambodia, Darfur, Myanmar, and now the persecution of the Uyghur people are widely cited examples of our failure to protect our neighbours. We can and must do more. ‘Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it’. These pivotal words from George Santayana serve as a reminder that, above all, we must reflect on our history. It is not enough to simply remember our past, we must understand it.

This may appear a daunting task. However, for those of us at Yet Again, it is a task we are prepared to undertake to collectively bring about change. At its core, Yet Again is a youth-led initiative dedicated to raising awareness of, and increasing our knowledge of, modern atrocity. This basic premise runs like a gold thread through our work. Put simply, we aim to ensure that the challenges faced by our generation, are met by our generation.

Our team of brilliant writers and researchers go to extraordinary lengths to ensure that the difficult and complex issues that modern atrocity present are considered in depth. Fundamentally, our mission is to encourage criticality, thoughtfulness, resolve, practicality and passion. Our articles delve into key scholarly debates and discuss issues often overlooked in wider public discourse. Is the Genocide Convention fit for purpose? In what ways has Nationalism acted as a precursor to atrocity? Does the responsibility to protect principle help or harm civilian populations? Is International Criminal Law capable of adequately responding to atrocity? How do we recognise atrocity before it occurs?

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These are just a flavour of some of the key debates that we shall contribute to over the coming months. Although some of these questions may be difficult, complex and controversial, it is precisely for these reasons that we intend to answer them. Until wider discussions on these topics occur, the prevalent mistakes that are currently being made shall persist. Yet Again is youth-led. Yet, our voices should not be defined by our youth, but by our credibility, persuasiveness and commitment. We are prepared to undertake the task of reflecting on atrocity so that we may, one day, prevent it, and hope others will join us in doing the same.

Presently, “never again” remains a failed, unachieved ambition. The burden is ours to ensure “Yet Again” truly becomes “never again”. I say ours deliberately. In the same way that international criminal law recognises personal responsibility for the perpetrators of atrocity, we should recognise our responsibility to occasion prevention. Individuals have international obligations. We cannot delegate responsibility to states as abstract concepts. Once we recognise that it is our responsibility, our future, and our humanity, only then can we be confident that change will come.

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Joe is a co-founder and Editor of the youth-led initiative, Yet Again. He is currently undertaking a Masters of Law, with a view to specialising in International Criminal Justice. He has been a volunteer working in Holocaust Education for the past four years and combines his passion for genocide prevention and international criminal law to provide insights into what must change for modern atrocity to be adequately confronted.

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