Each year the Shattuck Center hosts the Lemkin Reunion, a gathering named in honor of Raphael Lemkin, the Polish lawyer who lost his family in the Holocaust and first coined the word genocide. Lemkin campaigned tirelessly to ensure that the crime of genocide was codified as an international crime. The Lemkin Reunion gathers policy makers from around the world involved in responding to atrocity crimes and assesses the lessons they learned.
Many expected that the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of Communism would lead to the proliferation of liberal democracy and usher in an age of global cooperation on the prevention of atrocities and strengthening rule of law. Thirty years on, however, that idealistic hope has all but vanished amidst a resurgence of realpolitik embodied in the so-called “transactional” approach to foreign policy. Under transactionalism, nations prefer to pursue bilateral relationships based purely upon power and narrowly defined national interests. This approach, however, complicates consensus building through diplomacy around shared values and common interests that strengthen the international system. A disturbing consequence of a system focused on transactional relationships is how it struggles to hold nations accountable in any meaningful way for aggression, atrocities, and eroding the rule of law.
In the past decade alone, the world has been tested by serious breaches of international norms and standards. These have included alleged acts of genocide and ethnic cleansing in Syria and Myanmar, unprovoked military aggression by Russia in Ukraine, mass persecution of minorities in China, and systematic incarceration of journalists and academics in China, Turkey, and elsewhere. Nationalist quasi-autocratic leaders in EU Member States have assaulted and rolled back democratic norms and the rule of law, while the Philippines’ president has institutionalized state-orchestrated violent oppression. Today, the bar to being considered an outcast nation is exceedingly high. Although the above examples have prompted condemnation, and in some cases, sanctions, so far, the international community has failed to take concerted action to stop or punish behavior that so clearly breaches international principles. The increasingly “transactional” nature of the international system has allowed most offenders to maintain and continue to benefit from “business-as-usual” trade and diplomatic relations across the community of nations.
Enter the Coronavirus: Distraction and Pretext
As if the above concerns were not enough, the unfolding worldwide health and economic crisis precipitated by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has injected a massive, unprecedented challenge into the already stressed international system. The justifiably urgent global focus on combatting the pandemic has distracted the world’s attention from the myriad of crises that had largely gone unresolved. As nations struggle to protect the health of their citizens and their economies, preventing mass atrocities, holding perpetrators accountable, and protecting the rule of law have become even less of a priority. Moreover, some leaders have seized upon the colossal challenge of COVID-19 as a pretext to further erode democracy and the rule of law in the name of combatting the pandemic. Against this backdrop, the transactional trend could further challenge the international order by inhibiting the cooperation and consensus building this crisis requires and diminishing the prospect of accountability for atrocities and abuses, both predating and in the wake of the current crisis.
Featuring policy makers, academics and writers from around the world, the 6th Lemkin Reunion will examine these trends and discuss their implications for the future of the international system. While COVID-19 will influence most policy decisions for the foreseeable future, its appearance has in no way diminished the magnitude or importance of the challenges that predated it.
(Please click on the session title to view the panel lineup)
Session 1: July 1, 16:00 - 17:30 CET
Keynote/Opening Session: Transactional Foreign Policy and the International System
Session 2: July 2, 14:00 - 15:30 CET
How Transactional Foreign Policy Impacts Prevention of and Accountability for Atrocities
Session 3: July 2, 16:00 - 17:30 CET
Transactional Foreign Policy and Democratic Backsliding
Session 4: July 3, 14:00 - 15:30 CET
Security Implications of Transactional Foreign Policy
Session 5: July 3, 16:00 - 17:30 CET
Transactional Foreign Policy and the Global Response to/Implications of COVID-19
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