- Remembering the Holocaust can help prevent genocide
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After I read the news, I often feel powerless. What can any of us do to prevent genocide, to dismantle structural inequalities, or to stop the other horrors we hear about in the news?
Remembering the Holocaust can help prevent genocide
My own involvement in activism changed dramatically in high school, when a human rights activist inspired me to hope. I sat transfixed as she described how time and again, the global community watched from the sidelines as genocides unfolded: in Cambodia, in Iraq, in Bosnia, in Rwanda. Power talked about horrific violence on an unimaginable scale, but I left her talk feeling inspired.
She called on us all in the audience to join a movement to end genocide. She made it feel possible that if enough of us spoke out, even in small ways, our actions could add up to significant change. After Power finished speaking, I stood in a long line to buy her book, and a chapter on the killing of Kurds in Iraq became the inspiration for a one-act play about a Kurdish family I wrote for my English class.
I tried to raise my own awareness and that of others around me in this process, and my play was later performed at my high school. Listening to Samantha Power and raising awareness about genocide also led me to begin seeing my ongoing, local activism in global terms. Our actions often felt insignificant—like a pin in the way of an avalanche—but now in hindsight, I can see that we were able to accomplish more than I realized at the time.
The coverage of crimes against humanity expanded to include acts perpetrated in time of peace, and to a broad range of groups, not to mention an ever-growing list of punishable acts inspired by developments in international human rights law. For much the same reason, judicial interpretation of article II has remained relatively faithful to the intent of the drafters of the provision.
Article III lists four additional categories of the crime of genocide in addition to perpetration as such. One of these, complicity, is virtually implied in the concept of perpetration and derives from general principles of criminal law. The other three are incomplete or inchoate offences, in effect preliminary acts committed even where genocide itself does not take place. They enhance the preventive dimension of the Convention. Reprising a principal established in the Charter of the International Military Tribunal, article IV denies the defence of official capacity to Heads of State and other leading political figures.
Many States have accordingly enacted the relevant texts of the Convention within their own penal codes, whereas others have deemed that the underlying crimes of murder and assault were already adequately addressed so that perpetrators of genocide committed on their own territory would not escape accountability. It was held that despite the terms of the Convention, exercise of universal jurisdiction was authorised by customary international law.
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There is some practice to suggest that this rather vague formulation is nevertheless taken seriously, and that States consider themselves obliged to facilitate extradition when genocide charges are involved, subject to recognised principles prohibiting refoulement where there is a real risk of flagrant human rights abuses in the receiving State. This provision, which is largely superfluous because the right to seize the organs of the United Nations exists in any event, has apparently been invoked only once, by the United States of America in September 9 September , Secretary Colin L.
In Bosnia and Herzegovina v. Serbia and Montenegro , the International Court of Justice confirmed that States could, in effect, commit genocide, and that the Court could adjudicate the issue pursuant to article IX. Several applications charging genocide have been filed before the Court, but only one, Bosnia and Herzegovina v. Serbia and Montenegro , has come to a final judgment.
The remaining provisions of the Convention are mainly technical in nature, and concern such issues as the authentic language versions, application to non-self-governing territories, entry into force, revision and denunciation. The Convention is silent on the subject of reservations. Reports , p. Several reservations have been formulated, many of them without widespread objection.
Most of the reservations have concerned the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice set out in article IX. Influence of the Genocide Convention. It focuses attention on the protection of national, racial, ethnic and religious minorities from threats to their very existence. In that sense, it sits four-square within the priorities of both the United Nations and the modern human rights movement, aimed at the eradication of racism and xenophobia. Furthermore, it stresses the role of criminal justice and accountability in the protection and promotion of human rights.
The Convention has been much criticised for its limited scope. This was really more a case of frustration with the inadequate reach of international law in dealing with mass atrocities.
As history has shown, this difficulty would be addressed not by expanding the definition of genocide or by amending the Convention, but rather by an evolution in the closely related concept of crimes against humanity. Case law of the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia has confirmed a restrictive approach to interpretation of the definition of genocide, resisting its extension to cases of ethnic cleansing and similar attacks upon groups aimed at their displacement rather than at their physical extermination.
At the same time, in its ruling the Court found a robust concept of the prevention of genocide within the vague words of article I of the Convention. This obligation to prevent genocide dovetails nicely with the responsibility to protect, recognised in by the United Nations General Assembly and endorsed the following year by the Security Council. Unlike most of the other main human rights treaties, the Genocide Convention does not establish a monitoring mechanism.
There have been periodic calls to set up a treaty body, possibly by an additional protocol to the Convention or perhaps simply by a resolution of the General Assembly. In its report to the United Nations Secretary-General in January , the International Commission of Inquiry on Darfur insisted that crimes against humanity might, in some cases, be just as serious as genocide.
Nevertheless, alongside the legal definition of genocide, rooted in the Convention and confirmed in subsequent case law, there is a more popular or colloquial conception. In practice, this lay understanding of genocide is more akin to crimes against humanity, in that it comprises a broad range of mass atrocities. Related Materials A. Adolf Eichmann , Case No. Supreme Court of Israel, Adolf Eichmann v.
International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, Prosecutor v. Rwanda , Jurisdiction and Admissibility, I. Serbia and Montenegro , Judgment of 26 February Documents Security Council resolution of 28 April , paragraph 4 responsibility to protect. Security Council resolution of 18 September establishment of an international commission of inquiry on Darfur.
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The crises in Darfur, Secretary Colin L. By resolution 96 I of 11 December , the General Assembly, affirming that genocide is a crime under international law which the civilized world condemns, invited Member States to enact the necessary legislation for the prevention and punishment of that crime, recommended that international cooperation be organized to that effect and requested the Economic and Social Council to undertake the necessary studies, with a view to drawing up a draft convention on the crime of genocide.
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The Sixth legal Committee considered this draft at its 63rd to th meetings and th to th meetings of the third session of the General Assembly in Selected preparatory documents in chronological order. The Convention entered into force on 12 January For the current participation status of the Convention, as well as information and relevant texts of related treaty actions, such as reservations, declarations, objections, denunciations and notifications, see: The Status of Multilateral Treaties Deposited with the Secretary-General.
All Rights Reserved. Terms and Conditions of Use. Drafting of the Genocide Convention Drafting of the Convention proceeded in three main stages.
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Video 11 minutes, Full version Statement by Mrs. Evatt Australia Proclamation of the results of the vote: the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide is adopted by unanimous vote.
Anti-Genocide: Building a Moment to Prevent Genocide
Zafralla Khan Pakistan , Mr. Enrique Ugon Uruguay , Mr. Evatt Australia , Mr. Carlos Muntz Brazil , Mr. Robert Schuman France , Mr. Henry Copper Liberia , while Mr. Video 2 minutes, Full version [Mute].
Raphael Lemkin , 23 December Mr. Lemkin stresses how crucial the genocide problem is for our civilization and for the very existence of the United Nations. Audio 5 minutes, English Statement by Mr. Giraud stresses the importance of creating a convention on genocide in an effort to overcome the difference of views regarding i the consideration of cultural genocide, ii the determination of the human groups entitled to protection, and iii the choice of forum to sanction the crime.
Ricardo J. Alfaro Panama , 6 October Mr. Alfaro provides an explanation of the crime of genocide by making reference to atrocities committed during World War II.
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Dignam Australia , 6 October Mr. Dignam describes the work of the Sixth legal Committee towards the adoption of a convention on genocide. Audio 3 minutes, English Statement by Mrs.