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Viral Videos, Activists Discussed as Tools to Prevent Atrocities

A box full to the brim with KONY 2012 campaign posters are shown Thursday March 8, 2012 at the Invisible Children Movement offices in San Diego.

A panel in Washington has discussed viral videos, empowering local activists and setting international moral values as means to prevent future mass atrocities against civilians.

The panel called “The Responsibility to Protect” was organized during the two-day Clinton Global Initiative University Meeting, and attended by dozens of students from across the United States, many of them foreigners. Former President Bill Clinton launched these programs in 2007 to engage the next generation of leaders.

Drawing on current violence taking place against civilians in Syria, international relations professor Amitai Etzioni called for urgent action when what he called a moral minimum is under threat.

“If you stand by and allow a government to take its tanks and shell civilians and then go and pull people out of hospital beds and knife them, then what are we standing for? So there I would say all pragmatic considerations have to be set aside, and I don’t think we always have to have a national interest. I think we have some moral duties which even if they conflict with our national interests, there is a level, a Holocaust, where we cannot just stand by," he said.

Etzioni called on the international community to have standby troops to quickly intervene in such situations.

But Michael Gerson, who works for the One Campaign which aims to improve international aid, warned that any multilateral solution, even if essential, can quickly get bogged down.

“It is not possible just for one country to come in and take care of all these problems, but multilateral institutions are not designed for speed. And we find that again and again and again, when it comes to the United Nations Security Council, which we have seen with the role of Russia and China, when it comes to organizations like NATO which we tried to get involved in Darfur," he said.

Despite massive attention to the problems in Sudan’s Darfur region, the violence there, which began nine years ago, continues.

In such situations, Juliana Rotich, the executive director of Ushahidi, a non-profit technology company managing crisis information, recommended empowering local activists.

“It takes the involvement of the local activists who know the situation best to make the recommendations that fit the issue. Our part as a technology provider is to provide the skeleton on which they can flesh out the issue that they care about, and they can put in place the processes that fit that particular issue," she said.

Also on the panel was U.S. film actress Kristen Bell, who defended her involvement with the controversial but hugely successful online video against the roving Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) leader Joseph Kony by the U.S. group Invisible Children.

The LRA has been maiming and abducting children across Central Africa, as well as killing civilians for over two decades, something Bell said she wanted to use her fame to fight against. “Listen, I am not a foreign policy expert. I do not know a ton about government. But I do know that I care about people, and I do not really care what country they live in because technology has given me the ability to look into someone’s face and see them across the world," she said. "And I just want to be able to say, ‘hope you are doing well. I am here if you need me.’"

The video was again criticized by panel members, as it has been previously for being too simple and aimed too much at a U.S. audience. But since being viewed tens of millions of times, the “Kony 2012” video has been followed by a new U.S. Congressional resolution backing U.S. military efforts to help eradicate the LRA, as well as a decision by the African Union to send 5,000 troops to find Kony. The elusive LRA leader is wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of crimes against humanity.