Sho Shibata, Blog Writer

A standard approach to preventing genocide emphasizes understanding the causes that culminate in such violence. The origins of such mass, systemic violence can often be linked to phenomena such as Civil War and ethnic tension among different groups. However, we must be mindful that attributing a single event as the catalyst to such large scale violence can limit our scope of analysis and overall understanding. The spillover effect offers some insight as to why ending genocide is often a prolonged process. Then remains the question of how to respond, and if it is even appropriate to respond at all.

The violence typified in acts of genocide, and any rampant violence for that matter, exacts an inertia pushing it forward in a spillover effect that charges through and beyond geopolitical boundaries. This often invokes a response from the international community, bringing to head the main encampments in the debate surrounding the notion of international intervention in cases of Civil War or genocide.   Do we risk Western neo-colonialism, hidden under the guise of intervention, or do we have a duty to intervene?

This notion of a spillover effect is an important point in this “natural” sequence of events potentially leading to genocide. This ripple effect is nothing new. Picturing a map of Africa, we can compare ongoing, contemporary conflicts such as South Sudan and Syria, to past ones that share similar scales of violence. Such past cases include: Sudan (1989-99), Ethiopia (1975-78), Rwanda (1994), and Uganda (1969-79).

An influx of refugees often foretells of an oncoming wave of violence in a region. These groups of people are likely to include some individuals who may be inclined to enact vengeance. Consequently, there is a risk of destabilizing their temporary communities. This was observed among Hutu camps in the Democratic Republic of Congo. This unrest may provide the type of environment in which extremist groups can form. The destabilization of international borders, the instability among and within refugee groups creating appropriate conditions for radicalization, and the potential for domestic threats seeping in from adjacent countries as a result of such radicalization, are cause for serious concern for governments and groups beyond the borders of the country where the initial violence occurs. Ultimately, these neighbouring countries end up intervening, “transforming a local conflict into a regional one”. The Congolese Civil War was a culmination of the involvement of several countries that began as a campaign by Rwandan and Ugandan forces against génocidiaries that had fled each country.

While this is a superficial abstraction of a highly complex and interconnected phenomenon, it is meant to provide a different perspective on how quickly genocide can spread geopolitically and last over an extended duration, despite the possible cessation of immediate, internal violence. While there is something inarguably elitist to the assumption that the “enlightened Westerner” can resolve the issues of another region, one whose societal and cultural dynamics those intervening may not understand, there is something equally unpalatable about the notion of inaction. In many cases, inaction furthers the perpetuation of violence. We need to bridge a gap between the critical abstract and the practical. Insofar as these problems persist, the shifting dynamics of conflict require discipline, patience, and sympathy, especially in the fine tunings of discourse.