Human Rights Education
Oral History Item Type Metadata
I think the way that you can reach the people who commit genocide with the fact that it is against the law is, first of all, that many of the people who commit the genocide are soldiers. And soldiers are trained, and so part of their training can include training in the Geneva Conventions, the Genocide Convention, and the laws of war, the laws about crimes against humanity, and indeed it should. That should be the universal training of every soldier. Indeed, it is part of military assistance to many countries by the United States now. I think that's first.
The second thing is I think it should be part of the education of every single schoolchild. Human rights education should be part of the basic curriculum in primary schools all across the world. That is one of the things that Amnesty International has been saying for many, many years. It's not hard to do. The books exist. It can be taught through comic books. And the concepts are not that difficult.
In fact, a lot of the basic rules about not killing each other, and basically the basic laws against killing other people and against committing torture and things of that kind, are what you could call fundamental natural law. I mean, they go basically down to the deepest roots of law, so they can be understood by just about everybody. In fact, they are part of the legal system of every country. So, most people can understand these things pretty easily.
In fact, if you go to the average person who's going out there killing in a genocide -- and by the way, I have interviewed people after genocides, in Cambodia and Rwanda, who admit that they killed during the genocide. And I've asked them, "Didn't you know that this was terrible, what you were doing?" And they will tell you, "Yes, I knew," and they'll tell you. They'll admit that they knew it was. They will often have excuses or reasons or something one way or another, but they'll tell you that they knew. And so I think that that realization about the terrible aspect of it is something that can be taught.
What's hard, of course, what's hard is getting past the defenses. What's hard is getting past the ways in which the dictators will try to overcome those laws, in which they will try to convince you that actually killing these other people is not a bad thing, because these are enemies of the state or these are enemies of our people, in which you can convince the people that they should stand up to that type of pressure. That's hard. That takes real leadership and courage in many cases.
I think, for instance, of the example of the Danish king during the Holocaust, who, when his people were ordered -- when the Jews were ordered to wear the yellow star in Denmark, the Danish king put on a yellow star too, and all the people in Denmark put on yellow stars. And of course, that meant that the yellow star in Denmark had no meaning. Result? Literally tens of thousands of Danish Jews were saved. And that took courage. But that kind of courage is the kind of courage that it's hard to teach, but it's something that we need to try to teach somehow in our schools.