Genocide Still Happens
Help students understand warnings for the future and echoes from the past.
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. 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 and prevent genocide from ever happening again. This month, we also commemorate the anniversary of the Rwandan Genocide, which began 25 years ago in April. One hundred days of systematic killings left an estimated 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus dead.
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.
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.”1 Under 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:
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 predicted to happen in the future. Use the See, Think, Wonder routine to discuss students’ reactions to the map:
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.
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?||What are actions that people can take?|
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:
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.
Our lesson Responding to the Rohingya Crisis covers the ongoing persecution and mass killing of the Rohingya in Myanmar.
The following resources can be used to teach about the 1994 Rwandan Genocide:
If your students are interested in exploring more about student activism, you can use our unit 10 Questions for Young Changemakers to learn about a framework that can guide student organizing.