A report by Sauvé Fellows Nicole Leaver and Bojan Francuz

“Genocide prevention must become good politics,” i.e. become relevant on the minds of policy-makers and elected officials, said Kyle Matthews, the Executive Director of the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies (MIGS) at Concordia University. The Institute has carved out a niche space in the academia-policy realm to act as a convener for ideas and action on genocide, mass atrocities and violent extremism.

During the Public Leadership Encounter, the second in the Fellow’s weekly series, JSF Fellows visited the Institute and met with Matthews and his staff members. They learned about the Institute’s history and mission, and got acquainted with several ongoing projects. Most notably, the DMAPLab, a pioneering “policy hub” working to combat hate speech and genocidal ideologies online.

In a lively discussion, Fellows and Matthews touched upon several topics: genocide education, the crisis in Myanmar and opportunities for individual and collective engagement.

Matthews underlined the importance of integrating genocide prevention education in curriculums across Canada. Going beyond the reach of students, Matthews stressed the need for increased genocide prevention education in the wider public sphere, for example by engaging citizens through popular media. Equally important to MIGS’ mission is creating a meaningful and sustained engagement with parliamentarians and policy-makers in Canada and abroad.

A significant part of the discussion was dedicated to exploring the ongoing situation in Myanmar, described by Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, as “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.” Matthews noted that he is not surprised by the impotence of the UN to respond proactively to the situation in the country and failure to live up to the principles of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) doctrine. This noted, he was also optimistic about efforts such as the veto code of conduct mechanism which attempt to address the problem of the Security Council gridlock in cases of mass atrocities.

Responding to the Fellows’ questions about how individuals and collective groups, such as the Sauvé Fellows, can contribute and participate on these issues, Matthews highlighted that the role of religious leaders in genocide prevention should be explored further. He also offered Fellows to call upon the Institute’s resources and networks, and invited us to collaborate in the future.

Prior to the Leadership Encounter with Kyle Matthews and the MIGS staff, Fellows engaged in discussions on the legal and theoretical scope of genocide and questions on who gets to decide when it is occurring, while analyzing specific modern day case studies and identifying genocide prevention indicators.

The Fellows also had an opportunity to speak via phone to Ahmed Ullah, a young Rohingya activist from Kitchener, Ontario, who shared his personal story about the challenges he faced as a Rohingya activist in Canada. Despite numerous barriers, Ahmed continues his efforts to speak up for his community and nudge the Canadian government to respond more forcefully to the situation in Myanmar.