Human Rights Activist Prendergast Brings Genocide Prevention Vision to Cambridge


John Prendergast speaks with Arpi Kouzouian and other parishioners.

John Prendergast speaks with Arpi Kouzouian and other parishioners.

By Olya Yordanyan

Special to the Mirror-Spectator

Human Rights Activist Prendergast Brings Genocide Prevention Vision to Cambridge

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Human rights activist and best-selling author John Prendergast was the featured speaker at Holy Trinity Armenian Church on May 12. The talk was part of the Dr. Michael and Joyce Kolligian Distinguished Speakers Series.

Prendergast, who is the founding president of the Enough Project, an initiative aiming to end genocides, and board member of Not On Our Watch — a charity started by actors George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon and Don Cheadle — contributed to the launch of Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity. He is currently strategic consultant to the Aurora Prize.

The Aurora Prize, part of the 100 Lives organization, this past month gave out its inaugural prize to Marguerite Barankitse from Burundi.

Prendergast has also co-founded the Sentry, a new partnership between the Enough Project and Not On Our Watch, which brings together financial investigators to follow “the money that fund” perpetrators of mass atrocities.”

Fr. Vasken A. Kouzouian, pastor of the Holy Trinity Church, and Valerie Kolligian Thayer, daughter of Dr. Michael and Joyce Kolligian, welcomed the audience.

Prendergast delivered a forward-looking talk titled “Genocide and Crimes Against Humanities: Lessons learned and Hope for the Future,” focusing on countering and ending genocides.

“Genocides continue, but do not look the same,” Prendergast told the audience, noting that they are transforming over time.

He criticized the “ineffectiveness” of global responses — peacekeeping operations, peace talks and humanitarian aid — in preventing genocides and mass atrocities.

“The main tools of international response have for the most part been inadequate in the face of a genocidal intent,” he said.

According to Prendergast, large peacekeeping operations “rarely protect people from being targeted for annihilation,” and peace processes often give perpetrators time to carry out their plans.

Prendergast said that preventing or countering genocides is an important way of commemorating past genocides.

He detailed his vision of actions that would bring a change in the current practices of genocide prevention across the world. He in particular pointed out five concepts that raise hope for genocide prevention: a global anti-genocide movement, norms of accountability, new policy tools, youth movements and remembrance.

“There will be no response to genocide without constituency of conscience. There will be no action, if there is no cost politically and financially,” Prendergast said.

According to him, “people’s movements are the most reliable” sources for fighting injustices. The US Civil Rights Movement, the Anti-Apartheid Movement in South Africa, Save Darfur movement and others are powerful examples of successful action.

“This is about generating the political will to act,” he said.

Prendergast highlighted the need to hold people who try to commit a genocide, financially accountable, noting they should pay “serious financial cost.”

“The idea is not just to respond, but also to identify places and networks that [fund people, who] are intending to commit crimes against humanity, and go after their assets and create a calculation sheet so that, in fact, they think twice whether they should do that or not, because there will be some kind of cost to their action,” Prendergast said.

The talk was followed by a question-and-answer session and closing remarks by Dr. Noubar Afeyan, who talked about the idea behind the Aurora prize and praised Prendergast’s vision, calling him “the mastermind behind movements.”

The Dr. Michael and Joyce Kolligian Distinguished Speakers Series, held once in three years, was launched in 2000 to provide “high-quality, educational and cultural programs to enhance knowledge” of the Holy Trinity Church members as well as the greater Armenian community. Journalists Dr. Bob Arnot and Peter Bergen; Rwandan genocide survivor and author Immaculée Ilibagiza, and well-known actress and activist Mia Farrow have spoken in this series.