Tuesday, January 13, 2009

What do we mean when we talk about Genocide?

I feel this piece is relevant to what's happening on the Gaza Strip. It is important to first universally define genocide then recognize when it occurs and finally condemn it with every quaking cell in your body.

U.N. Convention on Genocide

In addition to the general declaration of human rights, which define individual civil liberties, the convention also aims to prevent persecution of racial or ethnic groups.

Quote: "Article I: The Contracting Parties confirm that genocide, whether committed in time of peace or in time of war, is a crime under international law which they undertake to prevent and to punish."

The “Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide,” encompasses a total of 19 articles.

The Polish American human rights activist Raphael Lemkin played a major role in defining “genocide” in the 1940s. Lemkin, who had lost members of his family during the National Socialist’s persecution of the Jews, had assisted the U.S. Chief Prosecutor Robert H. Jackson during the Nuremberg War Trials.

In 1947, Lemkin presented the United Nations with a draft law against genocide, which was unanimously accepted in December 1948 by a vote of the UN General Assembly. It did not go into effect, however, until two years later on January 12, 1951.

Quote: "Article II: In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group as such:
a. Killing members of the group;
b. Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
c. Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
d. Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
e. Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

Genocide: the complete or partial, direct or indirect extermination of national, ethnic, racial or religious groups - the definition appears to be clear enough. And yet it proved to be riddled with loopholes: persecution and killing for political, social or economic reasons was not mentioned. These limitations had been pushed through by the Soviet Union and resulted, among other things, in the crimes committed by the Red Khmer (Khmer Rouge) in Cambodia never being recognized or punished as genocide.

Quote: "Article IV: Persons committing genocide or any of the other acts enumerated in Article III shall be punished, whether they are constitutionally responsible rulers, public officials or private individuals."

Since the declaration was ratified in 1951, the United Nations has classified two crimes as genocide: The ethnic mass murders on the minority population of Tutsis in Rwanda in 1994 and the massacre of Srebrenica in July 1995, in which approximately 8,000 Muslim men were singled out and murdered by Serbian units.

Quote: "Article VI: Persons charged with genocide or any of the other acts enumerated in Article III shall be tried by a competent tribunal of the State in the territory of which the act was committed, or by such international penal tribunal as may have jurisdiction with respect to those Contracting Parties which shall have accepted its jurisdiction.”

Enforcing Article VI also proved difficult. Courts were often not interested in the persecution and punishment of such crimes. And Cold War tensions prevented the establishment of an international criminal court until the 1990s. By December 2000, 139 countries had signed the so-called Roman Statute, which calls for the establishment of an International Criminal Court in the Hague.

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