Grieving women pass by the stone marker at the Potocari memorial site for victims of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, in which 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys were massacred by Serb forces - photo by Adam Jones
UBC Reports | Vol. 53 | No. 11 | Nov. 1, 2007
A Crime Called Genocide
UBC Okanagan Scholar Seeks Knowledge from the Heart of Darkness
By Bud Mortenson
Near a small town in Bosnia this summer, Adam Jones watched in the rain as a mass grave was exhumed, the remains of dozens of nameless people brought forth from the sodden earth. It was a solemn reminder of a terrible truth: “Genocide is woven inextricably into the fabric of modern history,” he says.
“We’re coming to a greater understanding of just how pervasive this phenomenon has been throughout history,” says Jones, an Assoc. Prof. of Political Science who joined UBC Okanagan this year from Yale University.
Until 1943, it was called the “crime without a name.” Today, genocide is a label judiciously applied to atrocities around the globe, as experts like Jones build new understanding about what motivates one group to seek the extermination of another.
“In studying genocide, I’ve come to appreciate how many societies have been vulnerable to it. When we talk about genocidal prevention, we’re coming to terms with the legacy of the past,” he says. “Hopefully, that makes us more aware of the destructive processes when they arise today.”
Jones has traveled the world to learn more about the places and people involved in genocide. From Bolivia to Bosnia, he has seen first-hand the horrific damage inflicted by one group against another.
The author of a new textbook, Genocide: A Comprehensive Introduction (www.genocidetext.net), Jones was drawn to UBC’s Okanagan campus by an interdisciplinary approach to research, and an opportunity to delve ever deeper into what he calls “the heart of darkness” -- genocide through history and around the world.
He’s keenly interested in the role of gender in genocide. Examples of gender-selective atrocities -- “gendercide” -- are found in the witch hunts of Europe, colonial North America, and even modern-day Africa. Gendercide also permeates Africa’s long history of conflict, where invading forces cull battle-aged males from the population, thwarting any resistance. In one historical case, that of Shaka Zulu’s imperial armies in the early 19th century, the oppressing army did the opposite, killing all the women and children, forcing the men into service as soldiers.
“The role of gender in atrocities is under-explored,” Jones says. “I’m now looking at women and men as victims, perpetrators and bystanders in genocide. Understanding the role of gender helps us better understand the dynamics of genocide.”
Jones has developed tools to expose and record genocide -- so the crime, the perpetrators, and their victims are not nameless. Gendercide Watch, a non-profit organization he founded under the auspices of the Gender Issues Education Foundation, is one of these tools: collecting and publishing online a wide range of gendercide case studies, from Armenia during World War One to Rwanda in 1994, and more recent world media reports on gendercide. He has also published a comprehensive look at media coverage and human-rights reports about gender-selective killings in Darfur, Sudan.
Jones takes some comfort in knowing that against considerable cultural odds, great social victories have been won in the past -- over slavery and in advancing women’s rights, for example. “Maybe there is a chance to engineer similar transformations when it comes to genocide,” he says.
Two years ago, his explorations took him to Potosí, Bolivia, and the Cerro Rico mountain, the richest silver mine in history. “For two centuries, this mine fueled the epic excess of the Spanish monarchs,” Jones writes on his genocidetext.net website. “Still today, it is excavated -- mostly for other minerals -- by a small army of poverty-stricken miners whom I had the honour of joining for a couple of hours deep in the humid bowels of the mountain.”
During the colonial period, at least one million forced labourers, and perhaps as many as eight million -- mostly Aymara Indians, but including some African slaves -- died in the mines of Cerro Rico.
“There are grounds for believing that the Cerro Rico is the world’s greatest single tomb,” says Jones. “Potosí reminds us that our journey into genocide is only beginning -- and with it, our reckoning of our past and present barbarisms, and our potential to banish the scourge for good.”