Quips and Quotes: The UN Genocide Convention at 70

Author: Sarah Cahalan '14

Editor's Note: As soon as I graduated from Notre Dame, I realized that I never took proper advantage of one of the biggest perks of being at a university: all those lectures. You may not be able to pop by DeBart 101 every week to listen to experts opine about cell biology or geopolitics, but, in this new series, we're bringing the lecture hall to you. Our editors will scour the campus for one presentation per week to attend and share with our readers, reporting back with a quote and a few highlights from the latest event in the life of the mind. 

"I don't think we should be in the business of trying to prevent genocide. I think we should be in the business of trying to prevent significant human rights violations." — Ernesto Verdeja

On December 9, 1948, the United Nations adopted the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. Seven decades later, Notre Dame honored the anniversary with a lecture, "The UN Genocide Convention at 70: Historical Origins, Future Challenges."


Ernesto Verdeja, an associate professor of political science and peace studies and the director of the nonprofit Institute for the Study of Genocide, offered these remarks near the end of the talk. His co-presenter, Alexandra Gonza (a visiting scholar in the law school), had addressed the "punishment" side of the convention, speaking of her work with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and the difficulty of prosecuting genocidal acts carried out in Latin America during the 20th century. Verdeja followed up with a discussion of the convention's other arm: prevention. 


Arguing that nascent genocides are hard to identify while their perpetrators are still covering them up or denying their existence, Verdeja made the statement quoted here, claiming essentially that the Convention's goal of preventing genocide altogether may be the wrong approach. To prevent future atrocities, the best tactic may be to simply stop the conditions in which they arise in the first place. 


With finals in full swing this week and Christmas break beginning on Saturday, December 15, Quips and Quotes will go on a brief hiatus until classes (and public lectures) resume in January. Stay tuned for more virtual learning next semester! 


Sarah Cahalan is an associate editor of this magazine.