Building peace in the minds of men and women

Frank Chalk: “Ignorance joined with prejudice are the allies and tools of violent conflicts”



Chalk is a Professor of History and Director of the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies at Concordia University. He was one of the featured speakers that participated at the UNESCO Regional Consultation about Holocaust and Genocide Education in Latin America.

He is the co-author, along with Kurt Jonassohn, of “The History and Sociology of Genocide” (Yale, 1990), an associate editor of the three-volume Macmillan Reference USA Encyclopedia of Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity (2004), co-author with Roméo Dallaire, Kyle Matthews and others of “Mobilizing the Will to Intervene: Leadership to Prevent Mass Atrocities” (McGill-Queen’s, 2010), and consulting editor of Gale’s “Genocide and Persecution” series (2011). He has been a Fellow of the Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington, DC and a Fulbright Professor in Ibadan, Nigeria. In May 2012, he was appointed a member of the Canadian Advisory Council of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. In November 2012, he was granted a Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal in recognition of his contributions to genocide studies.

What is the role of education in raising awareness, strengthening respect for human rights and transmitting the memory of tragic historical events?

Education is the vital component in all forms of efforts to build a peaceful and decent society. Ignorance joined with prejudice are the allies and tools of violent conflicts, and the enemies of building peace and just outcomes. My research on genocide and that of my colleagues would remain valueless except for its integration into public education.

What is your definition of Genocide?

For international criminal law purposes, the definition given in Articles 2 and 3 of the UN Convention for the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (1951).

For valuable social science research, the definition I developed together with Kurt Jonassohn and Norman Cohn in our 1990 book, The History and Sociology of Genocide, is the following: "Genocide is a form of one-sided mass killing in which a state or other authority intends to destroy a group, as that group and membership in it are defined by the perpetrator."

In your research you have identified “intervening conditions” that can be considered as alarms to prevent new situations (of genocide).

Which ones are currently most prevalent?

Among Harff and Gurr's intervening conditions, the most prevalent today, are economic hardship resulting in differential treatment of groups, fragmentation of the ruling elite, and ideology excluding others from the universe of human obligation. We see these conditions in Myanmar, the DRC, Nigeria, Syria, Sudan, Kyrgyzstan and Burundi, all countries that are presently vulnerable to genocide and crimes against humanity.

Other than the Holocaust, what other episodes of genocide exist in recent history? What are the lessons to be learned from them?

Briefly, the cases of East Pakistan (1971), Burundi (1972), Rwanda (1994) and Bosnia (Srebrenica). The major lesson in each case is the same: there are rare times when international military intervention is essential to halting crimes against humanity before they reach the level of genocide and to avoid that necessity, early peaceful intervention, backed by the capacity to use force and in cooperation with peace-seeking local groups, must be supplemented by outside development and diplomatic aid. See our book, Mobilizing the Will to Intervene: Leadership to Prevent Mass Atrocities and our web site for examples.

Some aboriginal leaders from different parts of the world sometimes say that they have been victims of genocide. Do you agree?

Yes, I do. Our book, “The history & sociology of genocide” (Yale Univ. Press, 1990, available in Spanish from Prometeo), discusses many examples.