Other Voices, v.2, n.1 (February 2000)
Copyright © 2000, Ervin Staub, all rights reserved
S everal broad categories of actions are necessary to further the tremendously difficult long term task of preventing group violence, specifically genocides and mass killings.
The focus of this article will be on three categories of actions. While only the first one absolutely requires nations and the community of nations to act, I will stress the role of these "external bystanders" in all three of them. Nations and the community of nations--as well as nongovernmental organizations and individuals--need to respond, as active bystanders, to early signs of victimization. They can inhibit, by early actions, the evolution of extreme violence. Second, they need to help overcome deep-seated historical antagonism between groups, whether these have ethnic, religious, political or some other basis. Third, they need to help the victims of genocide heal, not only individual survivors who were directly affected, but the whole group. This not only improves their lives, but makes it less likely that they become perpetrators, and thereby helps to stop a continuing cycle of violence.
Three additional categories of action are also very important: they will receive only limited attention in this article. First, nations and the community of nations also can help prevent collective violence by helping newly emerging nations deal with the social and political chaos and economic problems, and their impact on people, that usually surround the birth of a nation. Such conditions often fuel ethnic, nationalistic or religious antagonisms. Second, even when there is no deep historical antagonism between groups, creating significant connections between them (Deutsch, 1973; Staub, 1989) can help overcome prejudice, devaluation and discrimination, and develop positive attitudes and relationships. Finally, a profoundly important avenue to prevention is the raising of children so that they become "inclusively" caring people, who care about all human beings. Such socialization also ought to develop moral courage, which then can lead people both to resist the evolution of violence against "others" within their own group, and to speak out against the passivity of their group in the face of violence against groups elsewhere. Raising inclusively caring children requires the transformation of the adults who socialize children, and of schools and other institutions in which children spend a great deal of time (Staub, 1995; 1996).
The focus of the article is on the prevention of genocides as well as similar but lesser forms of collective violence, such as mass killings. Genocides and mass killings often have fuzzy boundaries and even more importantly for the present purpose, have similar roots. Mass killings are also frequently precursors to genocides (Staub, 1989).
Genocidal violence often grows out of a variety of types and forms of difficult life conditions, like intense and persistent economic problems, political conflict and disorganization, which can include conflict between privileged groups and groups without rights, great social changes, or their combination (Staub, 1989). These conditions tend to give rise to scapegoating and destructive ideologies which identify enemies, especially when the culture of the group has certain characteristics, like a history of devaluation of subgroups of the society and a strong tendency to obey authority (Staub, 1989; 1996). The persecution of the scapegoated group or ideological enemy leads to changes in the group and its members. Often an evolution follows, with "steps along a continuum of destruction," that can end in genocide. Since the perpetrators become increasingly committed to their destructive ideology and course of action, only actions by witnesses or bystanders can inhibit the continued evolution towards increasing violence against the victim group. Tragically, bystanders usually remain passive.
Nations and groups as active bystanders.
The behavior of bystanders has a central role in preventing genocide. It is the passivity of bystanders, both internal bystanders, the members of the population of a country who are not actively involved in the perpetration of violence, as well as external bystanders, outside groups and nations, that allows the continued evolution toward genocide (Staub, 1989). Here I will focus on the role and activation of external bystanders. The role of internal bystanders requires diffferent considerations, involving both culture and child rearing.
In the course of the evolution toward genocide the perpetrator group harms the victim group, through discriminatory practices or limited forms of violence. Members of the perpetrator group change as a result of their own actions. They come to devalue the victims more, and become motivated to and capable of inflicting more harm on them. Progressively, the whole system changes, its norms and institutions increasingly allowing and serving the violence against victims.
The evolution often begins before the actual perpetrators of genocide come to power or gain influence. For example, in the case of the genocide of the Armenians in Turkey, in addition to discrimination against Armenians as a subject people, there were repeated attacks on them. In one period late in the 19th century at least 200,000 Armenians were killed (Hartunian, 1968). Progressive increase in violence and societal change was clearly evident in the increasing persecution of Jews in Nazi Germany (Dawidowicz, 1975). In some cases, as in Cambodia, the progression of increasing violence was mutual, between the Khmer Rouge and government forces, Once the Khmer Rouge took power, they proceeded to genocidal violence (Staub, 1989).
Early and strong reactions by bystander nations can inhibit this evolution. Unfortunately, nations usually remain passive, or even support perpetrators. When the killings of the Armenians began, in 1915, Germany, Turkey's ally in the war, remained passive. Articles in German newspapers justified Turkish actions (Bedrossyan, 1983). At a time when the murderous nature of the Nazi system was already clear and the persecution of the Jews already began to intensify, the whole world went to Germany to participate in the Berlin Olympics. U.S. corporations were busy doing business in Germany (Simpson, 1993). More recently, while Iraq was using chemical weapons against its Kurdish citizens, many countries continued to provide military equipment and economic aid to it, seeing Iraq as a counterweight to a fundamentalist, hostile Iran. They also continued to buy oil from Iraq.
The perpetrators, who are frequently guided by an ideology that designates the victim group as an enemy, are confirmed in the rightness of their cause by the bystanders' passivity (Taylor, 1983). Inaction also changes the bystanders themselves. It is psychologically nearly impossible to see others' intense suffering, do nothing, and continue to care about the victims' welfare. Passive bystanders distance themselves from victims, in part by justifying the actions of the perpetrators (Staub, 1989).
Why do nations remain passive? First, they define national interest in terms of wealth, power and influence (Morgenthau and Thompson, 1984). Second, they do not see themselves as moral agents responsible for the welfare of those outside their borders. These are shortsighted views and values, even if self-interest alone is considered. Governments that harm their citizens often become violent against outside groups as well. They create wars that involve the formerly passive or even friendly bystander nations. Examples of this abound, including Nazi Germany and Iraq. A third likely reason for passivity is that nations, especially powerful ones, do not want other nations to interfere with their internal affairs and therefore are disinclined to interfere in others' "internal affairs," such as violence against a group of citizens. For nations and the community of nations to become active bystanders requires that the pursuit of national interest and national obligation be defined as including the protection of human rights, the safety of human beings, everywhere.
The creation or strengthening of such values can be facilitated by the process of building, reshaping or creating international institutions designed to actively serve them. Until recently nations, and international institutions like the U.N., have concerned themselves primarily with aggression by states against others states. Inspite of the genocide convention, which specifies that genocide is a crime against humanity, and other international agreements and "laws" incorporated in the U.N charter, there has been much less interest in and concern about violence by a state or powerful groups against subgroups within a country. What follows is a discussion what changes are needed in the way bystander nations and the international system operate.
Early warning and the coordination of action.
Institutions are required to activate nations and the community of nations. They need to fulfill several functions. One of these is early warning about the victimization of groups of people. Currently the U.N. and various nongovernmental organizations like Amnesty International monitor and provide information about human rights violations. Such information- gathering functions of the U.N have been inadequate, although they are slowly being strengthened. They require further attention, including more automatic rather than reactive information gathering, especially in potential trouble spots, and the coordination of information from various sources. As described above, the beginnings of any form of systematic or widespread mistreatment of a particular group is a sign of the probable further increase in their mistreatment.
Information about human rights abuses is only useful if it is used. There must be an international organization or agency, ideally part of the U.N., that uses early information to activate the community of nations. Ideally, this organization will have links to specific institutions or offices within nations, since this international organization can only be effective if it can activate and coordinate the action of nations.
In order to stop the evolution of increasing mistreatment and violence against a potential or designated victim group, bystander nations must respond to early signs of victimization. They can start by condemning perpetrators and demanding that they stop. The community of nations rarely speak with a firm and unified voice when persecution and violence begin. Doing so can communicate to perpetrators, who frequently greatly devalue the victim group and follow an ideology that promotes and justifies their actions, that what they are doing is wrong in the eyes of others. If nations and the community of nations, through their leaders and media, express their outrage, they can reinstate, at least to some degree, the humanity of the victims in the eyes of perpetrators. They can raise concern about their image in the eyes of others. And they can create fear among the perpetrators about the consequences of their actions. This has to come early, since the acts of persecution and violence change the perpetrators and create increasing commitment to a destructive ideology and/ or the destruction of a victim group.
Words of warning and condemnation should be accompanied, when appropriate, by attempts to help resolve by negotiation genuine conflict of interest between groups. If words and warnings are ineffective, nations can intensify their response by withholding aid. They can progress, if necessary, to sanctions and boycotts. The earlier are such actions taken, and the more uniformly nations abide by them, the more effective will they be. While there is disagreement among scholars about the role of sanctions and boycotts in the transformation that has taken place in South Africa, South Africans themselves believe that they had a highly significant role (Pogrund, 1991). It was a rare instance in which sanctions and boycotts were relatively uniform.
As a last measure, an international force should be used. Since nations use force to promote "interests" which frequently have questionable legitimacy, the use of force to save human lives seems certainly justified. But the argument of this article is that the necessity to use force can be avoided, increasingly so as perpetrators learn that the community of nations will respond, and as the approaches to prevention described below, which can reduce the intense emotions of fear and hatred that often fuel group violence, are practiced.
At this time in U.N. procedures action is initiated by the Security Council. An independent agency, or unit within the U.N., is needed that would continuously evaluate incoming information. The existing Center for Human Rights, in conjunction with the Commissioner for Human Rights could perform this function, but does not effectively do so at this time. Such an agency must be able to call for action. This now happens through the Security Council, also ineffectively. It is essential to reform this system and its procedures, or to create alternate institutions and procedures.
The work of reforming the system or creating it anew could also be a process of shaping the values and beliefs of the community of nations. Nations will not be ready to act simply because an agency within the U.N., or a separate, independent organization exists. But the very process of creating such an institution, or developing procedures within existing U.N. agencies for activating a system to respond, as well as creating corresponding institutions within states (possibly offices within foreign ministries) to work with them, can contribute to value change. Once such an institution and system exist, by calling attention to the need for action and working both with the public and with governments, they can make active bystandership by nations a reality.
Healing historical antagonisms.
The devaluation of a victim group is always an important contributor to genocide (Fein, 1990; Staub, 1989). Sometimes this is primarily the devaluation of a minority by a more powerful majority, as in the case of Jews in Germany, the Armenians in Turkey or the Ache Indians in Paraguay. At other times it is intense mutual antagonism which has developed between groups that have been in conflict and often inflicted violence on each other over an extended historical period. This seems to be the case between Serbs and Croats (even though actual violence between these groups has not been great before World War II) and Hutus and Tutsis. Such antagonism may also have developed to some degree between Israeli Jews and Palestinians. I have called the relationship that develops between such groups "ideologies of antagonism" (Staub, 1989; 1992). Each group defines the other as an enemy bent on one's own destruction. Each develops an identity as the enemy of the other.
An important task for the international community in the prevention of genocide is to identify the existence of such deep-seated hostilities. Then a variety of approaches can be used to help the groups overcome hostility. They include "dialoque groups" of various kinds that bring certain members of the two groups together, people who feel less hostility to the other or see how destructive such hostility has been and are therefore open to some degree of engagement with the other.
In the past some small gatherings of this kind focused on the emotional task of overcoming hostility. As the members of each group describe the pain and suffering of their group at the hands of the other, they can begin to open up to the pain of the other. They can grieve for themselves, for the other, and assume responsibility for their share in the historical antagonism and violence (Volkan, 1988). In other instances, the participants focus on problem solving, or the practical tasks of peace building (Rouhana and Kelman, 1994). Whether the focus is on overcoming hostility or on conflict resolution and problem solving, the participation by influential members of each group, actual and potential policy makers, is extremely valuable. This has happened in workshops that had brought together Palestinians and Israelis before the peace process between them began.
Such work has to be extended to involve more people. By showing on television what goes on in dialoque groups, and by providing truthful historical accounts of the mutuality of harmdoing, many more people can be reached. A precursor to the violence in Yugoslavia has been the history taught to Serb children about the battle of Kosovo, in the 14th century, that led to centuries of Turkish domination over Serbs. The way this history has been taught generated continuing hostility towards Muslims and created strong nationalist feelings (Bjornson and Jonassohn, 1994). Radio broadcasts preceding and accompanying the breakup of Yugoslavia were another avenue for creating nationalist sentiments and hostility among Serbs towards Croats and Muslims.
Creating opportunities for "cross-cutting" relations, for engagement by members of groups with each other in joint work and business projects, or joint recreational activities, or joint educational efforts which may focus on learning about each other, is another important avenue for overcoming hostility. All these activities are limited by, and must be sensitive to, still existing and often intense feelings of hostility by members of historically antagonistic groups towards each other. Those who participate can endanger themselves. They can be ostracized or even be the objects of violence in their own group. When possible, reliable assurances of confidentiality may help attract participants to joint activities.
Helping victims heal.
Past victimization affects people's assumptions about other people and the world (Janoff-Bullman, 1985; 1993). It deeply frustrates basic human needs like the need for security, for a positive identity, for a sense of effectiveness and for positive connections to others (Staub, 1989; 1996; in press a; see also Milburn and Conrad, in press). It creates schemas or beliefs about what the world is like and what other people are like that make the constructive fulfillment of these needs more difficult. These include a negative view of human beings, of the world, and of one's ability to protect oneself and fulfill important goals in life.
For these reasons a group that was the victim of violence has an increased potential for violence. The victims' intense insecurity in the world diminishes their capacity to consider others' perspective or needs, especially at a time of threat to themselves. They may come to believe that violence is necessary to protect themselves. Victimization can also be part of a history that creates an ideology of antagonism. Even when harmdoing is mutual and a group that suffers also creates suffering, groups and their individuals members tend to focus on their own pain. They rarely take in the pain of the other and see their own responsibility for it.
Healing from trauma which reduces pain and enables people to live constructive lives, and reduces the likelihood of violence by victims and thus a continuing cycle of violence, has several requirements. First, it is important for the world outside the group to acknowledge the group's suffering and to show caring and empathy. For example, in the case of the Armenians, this has not happened, partly due to Turkey's denial that the genocide has occurred and partly to the difficulty individuals and nations have in taking in and responding to others' suffering.
Support and affirmation by the world can contribute to processes within the group that help members grieve, and feel "empathy with themselves," that is, feel sorrow and sadness about their own pain and suffering and the pain and suffering of others in their group. These processes together with psychological education can help victims overcome self-devaluation that is a natural result of victimization. Self devaluation may be inarticulated, outside conscious awareness. But victims often feel that something must be wrong with them. Otherwise they would not have been treated as they were. Self-devaluation is partly due to just world thinking (Lerner, 1980), the belief that the world is a just place and therefore people who suffer must deserve their suffering, due either to their actions or to their character.
The behavior of bystander nations, both the punishment of perpetrators and guarantees of active future response, can affirm the innocence of victims and the great injustice they suffered. It also has the potential of creating a feeling of security, based on confidence that the group will be protected and victimization will not be repeated. Compensatory actions by the perpetrator group, like assuming responsibility, expressions of guilt and regret, and monetary compensation, after a period of initial healing that enables the victims to give psychological meaning to these compensatory actions, can also contribute to healing. Unfortunately, neither bystander nations nor perpetrators do normally act in this manner.
The socialization of children in the group must also attend to healing the trauma, which is inevitably transmitted to children. The psychological impact on adults that I briefly noted, their feelings of insecurity, mistrust and other negative views of people and the world, impact children. This impact can be enhanced either by silence, adults not talking about what happened to them as individuals and to the group as a whole, or by incessant focus on the past trauma. Children need to learn about the past, partly to be able to make sense of their own experience of the adults around them. Their awareness of what has happened, of how their parents have been impacted, and how they themselves have been impacted in turn, is part of a process of becoming free that can help children lead untraumatized lives.
Healing may also be furthered by shared remembering, rituals and the creation of a strong internal community. To create healing these activities need to bring the suffering and continued pain to light, but ideally they will also point the community to the future. The strength gained in this process can enhance optimism about the future. It can make violence by the victim group less likely. 1
Nation building and democracy.
In the midst of the chaos and turmoil in the world that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union, new nations have been arising and old ones recreating themselves. Chaos and turmoil usually accompany nation building. Difficult life conditions, whether in the form of economic problems, political disorganization, or great social change, are important starting points for group violence. What can be done to reduce the chance of violence in the course of nation building?
The severe economic problems, political conflict, and social change that new and emerging nations face are often the starting point for the creation or adoption of ideologies, like communism or Nazism that offer a better future but identify "enemies" who must be destroyed, or old-fashioned nationalism that excludes minorities in the name of purity and strives to gain territory (Staub, 1989). To deal with these difficult conditions by cooperation rather than turning against others requires positive visions that are based on inclusive caring and encompass an inclusive community. These can generate perseverance in working to deal with problems.
The outside world can be helpful by providing economic aid. But it can also help people generate a positive vision that includes all segments of the society in a hopeful future. Leaders can be offered information about the psychological needs that arise under such conditions and considerations about ways of fulfilling them that join rather than divide people. Anything that can be done to enhance leaders' personal safety as they endevour to include historically devalued groups in the vision of a positive future is also of great value. Help by outsiders must be offered with humility, with awareness of being outsiders, and in collaboration with local individuals and institutions.
Other avenues for prevention.
Overcoming devaluation and developing positive relations. How can groups of people who live in contact with one another overcome the usual differentiation between "us" and "them" and the devaluation of them, and develop positive attitudes and relationships to each other? As I have noted in the discussion of historical antagonism between groups, a primary avenue for this is cross-cutting relations (Deutsch, 1973; Staub, 1989), or deep engagement by members of groups with each other. Among its many forms are cultural and athletic activities as well as business and scientific projects.
Gordon Allport (1954), probably the first psychologist to propose the importance of contact in overcoming prejudice, specified a number of conditions that must be fulfilled for contact to work. One of these is equality, even if the actual status of the groups is unequal. Another is support by authorities.
Social psychologists found in their research studies that contact does not always work, which should not be surprising.
Superficial contact is not enough; it can enhance rather than decrease mutual devaluation (Ben-Ari and Amir, 1988; Stroebe, et al., 1988; Staub, 1989). In research studies and in real life, contact is often superficial, limited. But when members of different groups are on the same athletic teams or are together under circumstances that require deep engagement, their prejudice towards the other group declines. In studies of cooperative learning in schools, when children belonging to different groups work together in meaningful, significant ways, for example, by teaching each other and learning from each other, their contact creates more future interaction and positive behavior (Aronson et.al., 1978; Hertz-Lazarovitz and Sharan, 1984).
Another way to ovecome devaluation of the other is education about each others' history and culture. As actual contact, so education must be more than superficial information. It needs to teach children and adults about both differences and similarities between self and others. It needs to provide an image of the other's history that helps to understand how the other has developed its particular culture and characteristics (Staub, 1966). Education about both the psychological processes that turn groups against each other and those that can turn them towards each other is also important.
Raising caring, inclusive children. To create a nonviolent world we will have to change cultures and social institutions which carry the devaluation of others, maintain discrimination, emphasize obedience to authority and in other ways provide the structures that lead to violence (Staub, 1989; 1996). But we must attend not only to culture and institutions, but also to people who create and maintain them. We must attend to the way we raise children.
We know a great deal about ways of raising caring children (Einseberg, 1992; Staub, 1979, 1992, 1995, 1996, in press b). The core requirements are nurturance and love. Another requirement is guidance that leads to valuing other people. Guidance includes rules and standards that lead children to act in ways that show respect for others' welfare. It includes the example of others. It includes explanation and reasoning that identify the important values on which rules are based.
Children should also be involved in actually helping others. Such learning by doing is an essential way of learning to care about others' welfare (Staub, 1979). Many adults, to be able to practice such "positive socialization" (Staub, 1992), must not only acquire vision and skills, but must attend to and heal from their own childhood experiences of pain, insufficient love, neglect or abuse.
The caring which children learn ought to be inclusive caring, that is also applied to people outside the group, to all human beings. For this to happen, as noted before, children (and adults) also need education about the other and engagement with members of other groups.
Violence by groups of people against other groups of people is not going to disappear tomorrow. But by attending to both direct, immediate, practical approaches like activating bystanders and working to heal historical antagonisms, and long-term approaches like child rearing, we can work for a world in which groups of human beings won't deal with the problems and difficulties of life by turning against each other, but will instead join together to solve them.
1. Healing and overcoming a history of antagonism sometimes have to occur together, under special conditions that make them especially difficult, while also create great urgency. Such a situation has been created in Rwanda and exists there in 1996 due to the recency of the violence, the need of the Hutu refugees in neighboring countries to return and the difficulty of Hutus and Tutsis to live together without recurrence of violence. A similar situation exists in Bosnia. Both require the creation of methods of healing and overcoming fear and hate by whole groups of people, and the involvement of the community of nations.
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