Conference With a Conscience

MIGS Honours 10th Anniversary of The Responsibility to Protect

Photo Eric White

Genocide in Rwanda and ethnic cleansing in Kosovo in the early 1990s went notoriously ignored by the Western press and the United Nations—but these atrocities also caused positive changes in the media designed to avoid this kind of reaction in the future.

The Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies came together with Concordia to honour these changes in The Promise of the Media in Halting Mass Atrocities: A Conference to Mark the 10th Anniversary of The Responsibility to Protect, held Oct. 20 and 21.

Released in 2001 and approved by the UN General Assembly in 2005, The Responsibility to Protect is a report that changed the way that the international community deals with human rights violations.

The conference took place at the Mount Stephen Club on Drummond St., and featured speakers such as ex-PM Paul Martin and Concordia history professor and MIGS director Dr. Frank Chalk, among other esteemed journalists and human rights activists.

“It is perfectly clear to me that the media, or at least some of the media, have a responsibility to report, and it is a responsibility that the media accept willingly,” said André Pratte, Editor-in-Chief of La Presse. He emphasized that this responsibility is hindered by the limited funding for foreign events.

Although funding for foreign correspondence has been slashed, news on recent events such as the Arab Spring uprisings has been spread through Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube by civilians who witnessed the events firsthand.

“They’re the ones who can really tell us that something is happening,” said Jean-Paul Marthoz, Professor at the Institute of Higher Studies of Social Communications in Brussels and columnist for Le Soir.

“Social media can be a very positive contribution to knowing what’s happening in areas where the news media won’t go.”

With this discussion, journalists and human rights activists are trying to gain a better understanding of how to harness the power of social media, said Alexandra Buskie, assistant to the director of MIGS.

“We want to discuss and unpack how this changing media landscape is affecting reactions to mass atrocities in other countries and how we manage crises,” she said. “Our conference has been very well-timed.”