Genocide Still Happens

Help Students Understand Warnings for the Future and Echoes from the Past

Last updated: April 16, 2021.

Overview

Genocide. The word conjures horrifying images, descriptions of incomprehensible violence. Genocide is difficult to think about, difficult to talk about, and yet, it is a vital topic to teach because learning about mass atrocities can help sensitize students to inhumanity and spur them to action to fight injustice1. Every April is designated as Genocide Awareness Month, a time to remember past genocides, as well as to reflect on what more we can do to stop ongoing atrocities, such as the persecution of the Rohingya in Myanmar and the Uighurs in China, and to prevent future genocides.

This Teaching Idea offers suggestions for how you can discuss the current problem of genocide with your students. You can use the additional resources at the end of the lesson to provide students with historical context or a deeper exploration of contemporary case studies.

  1. Where are mass killings happening today?

    After the Holocaust, the international community vowed, “never again,” but despite this pledge, genocides and mass killings have continued to happen. The Early Warning Project at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum tracks mass killings occurring today and attempts to predict where they might occur in the future. According to the project, an event is a mass killing “when the deliberate actions of armed groups, including but not limited to state security forces, rebel armies, and other militias, result in the deaths of at least 1,000 noncombatant civilians targeted as part of a specific group over a period of one year or less.”2Under international law, a genocide occurs when the perpetrators intend to eradicate the group they are targeting. A mass killing does not require this intent. Thus, mass killing is a broader term than genocide, but acts of genocide also fall within this definition.

    Explain to your students that the Early Warning Project determines a country’s risk of having a mass killing by looking at certain “risk factors.” Have your students write down what they think these risk factors could be. Then, show your students the Early Warning Project’s list. Ask them:

    • What factors are the same as or similar to the ones on your list?
    • Do you find any of the factors on the Early Warning Project’s list surprising?
    • What do you think are the benefits of tracking and predicting mass killings? 

    Display the Early Warning Project’s Map of Statistical Risk, and explain that it shows both where mass killings are currently happening and where they are most likely to happen in the future. Use the See, Think, Wonder routine to discuss students’ reactions to the map:

    • What do you see when you first look at the map? What details stand out? (At this stage, elicit observations, not interpretations.)
    • What do you think the map shows? What information can you get from the map?
    • What does the map make you wonder? What questions does it raise for you?

     

    Extension:

    Have your students pick a country that is considered at risk of a mass killing. Students should research some of the country's risk factors, and read news coverage of the country. Students can then present their findings to the rest of the class.

    Note: If you click on a country within the Early Warning Project's map, it will give you more information about the country, including a brief summary of that country's risk factors. Since there are numerous risk factors for each country, students could focus on a limited number.

  2. What can we do to stop genocide?

    Note: This activity references the genocides that occurred in Rwanda (in 1994) and in the Darfur region of Sudan (beginning in 2003) to explore ideas about how to prevent future genocides. Depending on your students’ background knowledge, you may want to provide them with a few bullet points summarizing these historical events.

    Ask your students to draw the following table in their notebooks and to write down ideas under each column as they watch the two short videos below about acting to prevent genocide.

    What are barriers that stop people from acting to prevent or stop a genocide? What are actions that people can take to prevent genocides from occurring?

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Play the video Rwanda Genocide Survivors: Speaking Out to Prevent Future Genocides from USC Shoah Foundation. Then, play the video Projections that was created by students in response to the genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan, which began in 2003.

    After watching the videos, discuss the different ideas that students wrote down in their tables. For more ideas about actions that people can take, look at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s suggestions for action.

    End with time for students to reflect individually in their journals. Two possible prompts you can use with your students are:

    • Why do you think it is important to learn about past genocides? Do you think that teaching people about past genocides can help prevent future ones? Why or why not?
    • Different people feel called to take action in different ways. What is an issue that you would like to act on? What types of actions could you take?

Additional Resources:

Use the reading Raphael Lemkin and the Genocide Convention to learn about the history and meaning of the word genocide, or watch a clip from the documentary Watchers of the Sky to learn more about Lemkin and his work to coin the term.

Use our lesson Responding to the Rohingya Crisis to teach students about the beginning of the genocide against the Rohingya in 2017. The Vox article What Myanmar's Coup Could Mean for the Rohingya and Other Persecuted Minorities provides additional context for how the recent military coup in Myanmar might impact the ongoing atrocities against the Rohingya.

An increasing number of human rights organizations and governments have accused the Chinese government of committing genocide against the Uighur people. Use our Teaching Idea The Targeting of Uighur Muslims in China to teach students about the persecution and internment of the Uighur people.

The following resources can be used to teach about the 1994 Rwandan Genocide:

Citations

  • 1 : Eva Fleischner, Auschwitz: Beginning of a New Era? Reflections on the Holocaust (New York: Ktav PUblishing Co., 1974), 228. Quoted in Get Started from our resource Holocaust and Human Behavior.
  • 2 : “Definitions,” Early Warning Project website, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

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