Today we commemorate the Holocaust and the massacre of 11 million people. As the former director of the Genocide Prevention Initiative at the US Memorial Holocaust Museum, my job was to give meaning to that otherwise empty phrase, Never Again. Holocaust survivor and the leader behind the creation of the museum, Elie Wiesel said it best in the report that led to the building of the museum, “A museum unresponsive to the future, would violate the memory of the past.”
Over and over again since the Holocaust, we have witnessed the systematic destruction of a people based on who they are, in Bangladesh, Rwanda, Bosnia, Sudan, Syria. Will we ever get it right?
I am pleased to report there is reason for hope. As so often is the case, that hope comes from our children and starts in classrooms around the world.
Our human rights education program, Speak Truth To Power tells the stories of the most courageous people on earth, people, such as Elie Weisel, who faced imprisonment, torture, and repression—people, in other words, who lived through cataclysms like those mentioned above, and tried to do something about them. These stories show students how resistance and perseverance create change and how anyone, no matter how big or small, can make a difference.
Our curriculum integrates the stories of these defenders into required subjects, allowing teachers to teach empathy alongside equations. The idea is to integrate human rights into the very fabric of what schools teach, not to regard it as something “extra” or incidental to their missions. By hearing the words of those who have confronted injustice, young people feel empowered to abandon the role of bystander and take action when confronted with human rights abuses.
Human rights education can help us create citizens who will hold their society to the highest standards of equality and justice. A society that will not stand by and let another genocide unfold. By conducting teacher trainings around the world aimed at developing teachers certified to teach Speak Truth To Power, we ensure that more students than ever will learn about their capacity to improve our world.
For more than two decades, I investigated, reported and advocated on behalf some of the most marginalized people on earth: refugees from Ethiopia, internally displaced persons from Sudan, Bosnian war victims, people with disabilities, trafficking victims, and Afghans whose entire country is littered with mass graves. Today, mass graves are still being dug, war crimes are still being committed, and refugees are still cast from their homes.
But there are also more students who understand the principles of human rights. If we commit ourselves to educating every student about human rights, I am convinced that tomorrow, we can live in a world with no more mass graves, a world where refugees can return home. A world where Never Again means something.