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Gerry ChidiacThe Chinese philosopher Confucius said, “Study the past if you would define the future.”

When we look at the chaos in today’s world, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and helpless. When we look at history, however, we see that many atrocities were the result of our failure to respond in a timely manner.

So if we understand the mistakes of the past, we can respond more effectively in the present. This isn’t just the task of those who hold positions of influence, it’s the responsibility of every person.

The greatest crime against humanity is genocide. The atrocities in far too many places are almost unimaginable. Yet if we break them down, we see certain patterns.

Leading genocide scholar Gregory Stanton has noted that there are eight stages of genocide (he recently expanded this to 10 stages). Before mass killings can begin, the perpetrators must create an us-against-them mentality. They must identify, classify and vilify the targeted group. They must also organize and prepare before they carry out their crimes.

Stanton’s organization, Genocide Watch, has identified more than 20 countries where genocide is either happening or is in danger of happening.

History shows that we can act to put an end to these crimes and even prevent them. Yet far too often, our lack of action allows them to happen.

In the early 1990s, aid agencies and diplomats were very aware of the hateful lies about Tutsis being widely broadcast by radio stations in Rwanda. They were aware of the training of militias and the buildup of arms. Much of the world, however, remained blissfully ignorant of these danger signs. Governments and investors continued to pour money into the country. It’s absolutely frightening how many times we can say “if only” about the Rwanda genocide.

As we entered the 21st century, we became aware of civil war in Liberia and Sierra Leone, and that these battles were funded largely by the trade of illegal diamonds. People en masse began to refuse to buy “blood diamonds” and the fighting stopped.

Now there is growing awareness about the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo that has caused more than five million deaths. This war is being fuelled by “conflict minerals,” so consumer groups are insisting that electronics companies refrain from using them in their products. According to Raise Hope for Congo, “As of October 2016, nearly 80 percent of miners working at tin, tantalum and tungsten mines in eastern Congo … were not working under the presence of armed actors.” In addition, some governments are using their aid budgets to pressure other countries to stop fueling this conflict. As a result, we’re seeing stability return to the region. The number of displaced people is half what it was in 2008.

There is still a long way to go in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the illegal trade of gold from the region continues to line the pockets of warlords. It’s clear that our advocacy as consumers and politically active citizens must continue.

Because it’s also clear how powerful we really are.

Imagine where the world would be today if we had taken action in Rwanda.

Imagine if we had acknowledged the horror of anti-Semitism and boycotted companies that invested in Nazi Germany.

Imagine the world that we can create when we honour the victims of genocide by making “never again” a reality. The power is clearly in our hands.

Gerry Chidiac is an award-winning high school teacher specializing in languages, genocide studies and work with at-risk students.

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