While traveling or in contact with international leaders, Kenyan Alice Nderitu, 53, has developed a habit of being treated unfriendly.
All because of his title: United Nations Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide. “My position has the word genocide, so some governments are very uncomfortable with a visit from me, and the implications that it might have,” Nderitu said, in an interview with Folha.
In office since November 2020, her mission is to advise the Secretary General of the United Nations, the Portuguese António Guterres, on the subject, and is responsible for giving the first warning on situations that could constitute genocide.
Kenyan says the international community, especially at the local level, is still not paying attention to the first signs that “the crime of crimes” is on its way. “Many think that until there are 1 million dead, there is no genocide. But genocide is something that is being built, ”he says.
Nderitu criticizes the Brazilian government for not protecting indigenous populations, but agrees with the prevailing assessment among experts in international law that it is not possible to qualify as genocide the possible failures of the fight against pandemic.
In a recent report to the Human Rights Council, Ms. said that “failure to respond to the first signs causes genocide and atrocities.” Has the international community learned lessons from past genocides and is it paying attention to these signs? The international community pays attention to the signals, but then not much is done. This is because we have relied on institutions like the Security Council to get things done, and we have seen many instances where it is divided. The office I run was created after the Rwandan genocides  and Srebrenica , because someone needed to give the first alert. What I see as a problem is not so much the international community as the local communities, as research has proven that 90% of atrocities occur within them. I saw in Kenya the desperation of people who waited for justice from a distant court, but at the local level those responsible walked freely. I have just returned from Bosnia, and the story is the same: international tribunals do a very effective job of holding the upper echelons accountable, but when it comes to the lower echelons nobody is doing anything.
Whenever there is talk of genocide, the expression “never again” is repeated. But they keep happening. Why? Genocide is the crime of crimes, the greatest of all. Governments are very nervous about this term. My position has the word genocide, so some governments are very unhappy with a visit from me and the implications that may have. But they forget that most of the work we do is prevention. You have to understand that genocide is not just something that happens to others, in Srebrenica, in Rwanda or during the Holocaust. People think genocides are just historical events that we can read. I have always given the example of the Sahel [ao sul do Saara, na África], a region affected by climate change, where the desert is advancing and we have pastoral conflicts. One day, they kill 15, the next day they kill 20. Many think that as long as there are not 1 million dead, there is no genocide. But genocide is something that is built up little by little.
Mrs. Do you think the term should be broadened to cover situations such as neglect in the pandemic, for example? The definition of genocide is the deliberate killing of large numbers of people of a particular religion or ethnic group, with the aim of destroying them. It is possible to insert new themes in this definition, but if you zoom in too much you can lose focus. What the courts are trying to prove is whether there is an intention to try to destroy some or all of these groups. There are a lot of things that can be put into these criteria without expanding, and therefore diluting, the concept. I think the term is already very strong as it is.
One of the reasons I asked this question is that right now in Brazil there is a debate that Bolsonaro is considered “genocidal” due to the failures of the fight against Covid. What Mrs. is he thinking? The legal definition of genocide is found in the 1948 UN convention and reiterated in the statute of the International Criminal Court. Our understanding is that it is very specific. When I say intention, it’s a really difficult element to prove, which is why we don’t have so many recognized cases of genocide. We have crimes which do not reach this level and which can constitute war crimes or crimes against humanity. And which are just as serious in international law. In the case of Brazil and Covid-19, we have received a lot of complaints from people and we say that the crime of genocide is defined by the 1948 convention. It is an extremely high bar, and for good reason. When we talk about Brazil, the genocide and the Covid-19, we have to ask ourselves whether it is possible to prove that the victims are the result of a deliberate action of destruction of an ethnic or religious group.
In her report to the UN Human Rights Council at the end of June, Ms expressed concern about the situation of indigenous groups in Brazil. Why? My first concern is the volume of complaints we receive here. Many are linked to alleged gaps in the protection of these populations. In Brazil, this refers to indigenous lives, demarcation problems and the deficit of national protection institutions, in particular Funai. It is very important for Brazil to fill these gaps in the implementation of national and international legal obligations. Previous consultation [aos indígenas], for example, is a requirement under ILO Convention 169 [Organização Internacional do Trabalho]. I have received information that in Brazil this has been limited to a small number of processes. And also concerns about the application of the calendar in demarcation processes. Of course, it is dangerous. I have also received statements on the impact of natural resource extraction, which has resulted in the displacement of indigenous populations.
Mrs. Do you think this situation has worsened in the current government? Some of these themes are specific to Brazil, but there are general patterns in the region. On the side of the current government, we know that the pandemic has contributed to making the situation of vulnerable populations more vulnerable.
In her report, Mrs. mentions the concern over the American withdrawal from Afghanistan. Is there a risk that progress made on women’s and minority rights will be reversed? I am extremely worried. The situation in Afghanistan is deteriorating, we can see it on the news. I can see the risk that an escalation can have in the lives of ordinary citizens of the country, who have already suffered from the conflict for many years. The gains made by women and minorities are particularly threatened. On May 8, for example, we witnessed a very disturbing attack on students, mostly girls, in a Hazara neighborhood. [grupo étnico de origem persa] Kabul, that is, targeting an ethnic community. That is why I have asked the international community to continue to support Afghanistan.
Would there be a risk of going back to the dark days of the Taliban? Yes, unless we have a very comprehensive and inclusive peace process. And that it is not only made up of older men, but that it also includes women in the decision-making process and younger people.
Mrs. he does not mention the situation of Uyghurs in China in his report, although many already believe that genocide is taking place there. Why? I have received many reports of the deteriorating situation of Uyghurs in Xinjiang [região chinesa], on large-scale arbitrary detentions, disappearances, surveillance. I did not mention China in part because access to this region remains a challenge. What I can do is raise issues when I have evidence. I plan to go to China soon.
There is an escalating conflict in Ethiopia, and with an obvious ethnic component. What’s the threat of genocide over there soon? What is happening there is part of what can be described as genocide. I have seen recent statements from the leadership of the country, referring to some people as “cancer” or “weed,” which is language used in places where there has been genocide or war crimes.
And with regard to Myanmar, how do you assess the situation of the Rohingya? The Rohingya are in a very difficult situation. It was hard before, it’s even harder now. For those who were refugees in Bangladesh and Thailand, it is impossible to return home now, because of the militias and the military. Myanmar and Ethiopia must both be on the radar of the international community, and no state should spare its efforts to prevent atrocities from taking place. The Ethiopian state has a responsibility to ensure the protection of all and to take decisive action. We ask that the Security Council be united in its response to these crimes. Unfortunately, this has not always been the case.
Alice Nderitu, 53 years old
Born in Nairobi (Kenya), she graduated in Arts, Literature and Philosophy, with a Masters in Armed Conflict and Peace Studies, both from the University of Nairobi. She was Commissioner for National Cohesion and a member of the Kenya Human Rights Commission, as well as a member of the South African Institute for Justice and Reconciliation