What Can We Do About Genocide

By April Yeung

When confronted with genocides, which are considered one of the worst atrocities that people can commit, such as the Rohingya genocide in Myanmar and the Uyghur genocide in China, we may feel frustration and hopelessness about not being able to bring justice or change society for the better. One cannot help but wish there were superheroes that could instantly serve just punishment to the villains. 

But there is no need for superheroes; normal people like you and me, who don’t live in conflict regions or have direct political power, can still do our part to help bring positive change and stop genocide.

The following sections will outline four of the ways that people can meaningfully provide assistance to others facing genocide as well as other human rights violations.

1)      Staying informed

While it is a cliché saying, education really is a good tool for most things in life. It not only provides awareness and knowledge of issues, but also tools for critical analytical thinking. Staying informed can mean reading credible sources on news, history, and background of a conflict or genocide, attending massive open online courses (MOOCs), or speaking with people who are knowledgeable on the subject.

Many people also like to share news and statistics on a conflict or genocide and relevant details regarding protests or petitions on social media for advocacy purposes; however, this action is beneficial mostly for a short period of time, because of the short attention span to news and other popular trends. Even still, sharing social media posts can help raise more awareness of genocide. 

Due to the rising spread of misinformation, the importance of fact checking and verifying information before sharing posts is paramount. We can fact check by reading the content of news articles, ascertaining the reputation of media outlets, consulting books, and searching for multiple sources. There are also websites to analyse the bias and factualness of various media outlets. Spending a bit more time to take these additional steps go a long way to combating misinformation. 

2)      Financial means

A second method to contribute is through financial means. However, this does not just mean donations; boycotting is another way of contributing financially. It can include financial boycotts, such as not buying from companies which operate in an area conducting genocide or refusing to use materials from such areas; for example the boycott of cotton from the Uyghur region. Another type of boycott is the boycotting of major events, such as the 1980 Summer Olympics

A famous example is the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement, which refers to the Palestinian-led organized actions to withdraw support and investment of Israeli businesses and banks as well as pressure governments to impose sanctions on the Israeli government.

In the case of the Rohingya genocide in Myanmar, the Boycott Myanmar Campaign was established, aiming to hit the military government’s finances through hurting the revenues of military-run businesses while calling for companies to break off ties with the junta.

Although boycotts have been described as “weapons of the weak”, research shows that marginal actors are able to use boycotts effectively in certain conditions. For example, if the company being boycotted is already suffering a decline in public reputation, the boycott is more likely to be successful. 

And of course, if you are able to, non-profit advocacy organizations always appreciate donations. Referencing back to our first part, it is good to take a bit of time to conduct a bit of research on the donee organization to see if their work and ethics match your values.

3)      Volunteering time and skills

You may have already been doing the things listed in the above two sections, so another way you and other activists could contribute effectively is by volunteering your time and skills to non-profit organizations working for the cessation or prevention of genocide.

Besides STAND Canada, there are other organizations who are working on anti-genocide advocacy or genocide prevention, such as the Genocide Watch, the Montreal Institute for Genocide & Human Rights Studies, the Sentinel Project for Genocide Prevention, Free Rohingya Coalition, and more. A good way to start researching for reputable organizations is to look up lists of advocacy groups, such as the Alliance Against Genocide

Don’t worry if you have not volunteered in a non-profit organization before or feel that you do not have the education or skills. There are many skills that one can contribute, such as communications, presentation, marketing, research, writing, fundraising, grant-writing, coding, design, and more.

4)      Political engagement

Ultimately it feels like there is not much a normal person can do, and that only governments and big corporations can make change. However, another important method that some may have overlooked is engaging in politics.

We should not forget our power as citizens in a democracy, and that includes our right to vote and to advocate to our local representatives’ office. Elected representatives serve their citizenry and should listen to the opinions of their electorate. Writing a personalized letter to your local elected representatives and organizing petitions for them to present in parliamentary or legislative assemblies are some ways that you can engage with your elected representatives. This not only lets them know what the electorate is concerned about but also helps to foster accountability in the democratic system.  

In Conclusion

Change does not just happen from the government; there are many actions that people like you and me can take to advocate for change, from staying informed and providing financial support to volunteering your time and skills and staying engaged politically. We should not underestimate small actions; although they may not seem significant individually, if everyone contributes a little bit, together we can bring about a world without genocide. 

April Yeung

STAND Canada Policy Researcher 

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