This is a guest post from Staci Alziebler-Perkins, a 2011 Carl Wilkens Fellow.
When I was a little girl, I always wanted to be a superhero. All you needed was a cool outfit like Batman or an invisible jet and a lasso like Wonder Women and you could save the world from evil. These days, the evil is a little more difficult to solve – crimes against humanity, child soldiers, rape as a tool of war, genocide – but that doesn’t stop some of us from wanting to save the world.
On November 3, about 35 people came to Manhattan, New York, to learn how to be a superhero. The first superhero to speak was “Superman” Claude Gatebuke, a Rwandan genocide survivor, genocide prevention activist, and a 2010 Carl Wilkens Fellow, told the story of his life in Rwanda and how he survived because of someone who took the time to advocate on his behalf. He now spreads the word using his story to inspire others to advocate against genocide, believing that this is the reason he was allowed to live. Claude encourages others to tell their stories and advocate on behalf of the voiceless through letters, calls, and visits to Members of Congress.
“Superwoman” Rachel Shapiro, Associate at the International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect, spoke about the principles of the Responsibility to Protect and how the failure to act in places like Rwanda and Bosnia led the international community to conclude that there must be a system to step in to protect people when a country cannot or will not protect its own. She also talked about the various tools available to countries including diplomacy, sanctions, and finally force that can be used to induce a country to uphold its “responsibility to protect.”
Rooting for the Underdog, International Cooperation Adviser in the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Jennifer Schense, talked about the International Criminal Court and its efforts to bring justice to victims of atrocities. In response to a question regarding why all the court cases were happening in Africa, Ms. Schense responded that Luis Moreno Ocampo, the ICC’s Prosecutor, had said that if the ICC had been working in 1945, then all of the cases would have been in Europe. If it had been working in 1973, it would have been in Latin America, but because it started in 2003, it is doing all of its cases in Africa. However, in 10 years, the situation could change again. The ICC works where the gravest crimes are being committed – currently in Africa. Ms. Schense did mention, however, that the ICC was reviewing the atrocities in Libya as well as the situation in Syria.
The biggest superheroes of the evening, however, were the ladies from the Project Girl Performance Collective. These “Super Girls”, New York City girls ages 12-21, wrote and performed their own work regarding child soldiers, rape as a weapon of war, conflict resources, and trafficking, bringing tears to the eyes of the audience. These girls with such huge hearts, who have known heartache of their own, were the ones who galvanized the audience.
After a spirited question and answer period, during a reception of cheese and wine thanks to Vino-Versity, the audience discussed how it wasn’t so hard to be a superhero – all they need to do is raise their voices, call their Members of Congress, attend a rally, or send a letter – it is that simple. For those who weren’t there, but still want to join the superhero ranks, it really is that simple, just contact United to End Genocide to find out how.
As for me, I am thrilled to hear there is a way to save the world, but since I always dreamt of becoming Wonder Woman one day, I am a bit sad to learn there is no special costume required.
Staci Alziebler-Perkins is a 2011 Carl Wilkens Fellow. She has 20 years of experience with national and international nonprofit organizations, with a focus on humanitarian aid, human rights, international law, and the United Nations. She spent nine years working for the World Federalist Movement, an international nongovernmental organization which has been a strong advocate for an international criminal court which would hold accountable those guilty of crimes such as genocide, as well as has galvanized support for the “Responsibility to Protect” principles, which would require the international community to intervene when a country cannot or will not protect its own citizens. Staci is the co-founder of I3F – Imagine x Inspire x Innovate Foundation and volunteers as the New York Chapter Director of Zonta International. As a Carl Wilkens Fellow, Staci is building an advocacy community in New York City that will be a powerful force in ending genocide once and for all.