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Pictured, left to right: Flaherty, Stanton, Akçam, and Rosenberg

Left to right: Professors Flaherty, Stanton, Akçam, and Rosenberg

By MARISSA GOLDFADEN

On 4 December, the Leitner Center for International Law and Justice at Fordham Law School presented a panel discussion entitled “Overcoming Genocide Denial.” Professor Martin Flaherty, the event’s moderator, gave the opening remarks.

The first panelist to speak was Dr. Gregory Stanton, founder and president of Genocide Watch. His talk focused on how to deny a genocide, as he notes that denial is the final stage of all genocides. Denial occurs both during and after a genocide, and triples the probability of further or future genocide. It also extends the crime of genocide to future generations of victims. Because of its prevalence, the tactics of genocide denial are predictable:

  1. Question and minimize the statistics.
  2. Attack the motivations of the truth-tellers.
  3. Claim that the deaths were inadvertent (i.e., as a result of famine, migration, or disease, not because of willful murder).
  4. Emphasize the strangeness of the victims.
  5. Rationalize the deaths as the result of tribal conflict.
  6. Blame “out of control” forces for committing the killings.
  7. Avoid antagonizing the genocidaires, who might walk out of “the peace process.”
  8. Justify denial in favor of current economic interests.
  9. Claim that the victims are receiving good treatment.
  10. Claim that what is going on doesn’t fit the definition of genocide.
  11. Blame the victims.
  12. Say that peace and reconciliation are more important than blaming people for genocide.

According to Dr. Stanton, there are ways to prevent denial, such as:

  • If the state that is committing the genocide (or in which it occurs) is not a State-Party to the Rome Treaty of the International Criminal Court, the UN Security Council should confer jurisdiction over the situation on the ICC.
  • If the genocidal regime has been overthrown, the UN should help the successor government form courts to try the perpetrators.

The next panelist to present was Professor Taner Akçam, who focused on Turkey’s denial of the Armenian Genocide. He posits that one of the main reasons for this denial is that to acknowledge it would be to turn national heroes into villains. Another result of/hurdle to acknowledgement would be that Turkey would have to pay reparations. While state policy may differ from societal attitudes, the lie has gone on too long to simply reverse it and admit the truth–an entire society and culture has been built upon this secret/lie to the point of creating what Professor Akçam refers to as a “communicative reality.” The existence of the Turkish people has been contingent upon the non-existence of Armenians. [Read the full text of Professor Akçam’s presentation.] 

The third and final speaker was Professor Sheri Rosenberg. Her presentation was on her experiences with genocide denial in Rwanda. She started by saying that genocide denial impedes healing, reconciliation, and transitional justice. In Rwanda, where perpetrators live side by side with survivors, there are laws against genocide ideology, as well as against discrimination and sectarianism. The genocide ideology law is simultaneously retrospective and prospective but problematic in that it constricts the public space and suppresses meaningful dialogue. This, in turn, can have a negative effect on individual and group conceptions of identity.

After the panelists concluded, the floor was opened for a Q&A session. In discussing Europe and Holocaust denial laws, Dr. Stanton said he believes such laws in general create a problem by instantly opposing free speech. Moreover, they don’t make a distinction between incitement and having amorphous genocidal thoughts. The next topic was Turkey and Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code, which makes it illegal to insult Turkey, the Turkish ethnicity, or Turkish government institutions. Professor Akçam said that if the United State acknowledged the Armenian Genocide, the problem would be solved in about three years because of the economic pressure that would be put on Turkey. Additionally, regional security must include historic injustices.

Another audience member asked about accountability for atrocities committed in Burma/Myanmar. That could be accomplished through the Alien Tort Statute,  a section of the United States Code that states, “The district courts shall have original jurisdiction of any civil action by an alien for a tort only, committed in violation of the law of nations or a treaty of the United States.” In other words, U.S. courts can hear human rights cases brought by foreign citizens for conduct committed outside the United States. Dr. Stanton ended the evening by saying that Iran should be brought in front of the International Court of Justice for “Direct and public incitement to commit genocide,” a punishable act under Article 3 of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.

Yesterday, the French National Assembly (France‘s lower house of Parliament) approved a draft law outlawing genocide denial. This includes the killings of more than one million Armenians by Turkish soldiers during World War I; though Turkey does not classify the killings as a genocide, France officially did so in 2001. The bill still needs Senate approval, and is expected to be debated early next year. In the interim, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoganhalted bilateral political and economic contacts, suspended military cooperation and ordered his country’s ambassador home for consultations.” Erdogan also retaliated by accusing France of massacring 15% of the Algerian population while France ruled Algeria from 1945-1962. Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan expressed gratitude for what he considers France’s commitment to human values, but the Organization of Islamic Cooperation rejects the bill and Turkish President Abdullah Gül said France should withdraw from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Minsk Group if the bill becomes law. The Armenian National Committee of America put out a statement to “mark the event and call President Obama to carry out his promise on the recognition of the Armenian Genocide, as well as the Congress to put the 304 resolution to the vote for the recognition of the Armenian genocide.”

Photo: euronews.net

Tensions are running high between Armenia and Azerbaijan, who have yet to resolve the conflict dating back to the Nagorno-Karabakh war of the late 1980s and early 1990s. Despite a 1994 ceasefire and rounds of internationally mediated negotiations, the two countries have not arrived at a permanent settlement and are currently engaged in a military buildup. Ceasefire violations by both sides and frustration resulting from lack of a clear resolution have led many Azeri refugees displaced by the conflict to consider war as a viable policy option and to engage in what appears to be military training.

Amnesty International issued a report on Friday urging Rwandan authorities to finish reviewing their “genocide ideology” law to ensure it does not contravene Rwanda’s obligations under international human rights law. Amnesty says the law, enacted in October 2008 to prevent a repeat of the 1994 genocide, is too broad and abstract, which leads it to be used to stifle political dissent and limit freedoms of speech and expression, including legitimate criticisms of current Rwandan policies by opposition politicians, journalists, and human rights activists. Rwandan officials responded to the allegations, saying Amnesty had “chosen to misrepresent reality in an inaccurate and highly partisan report.”

Ratko Mladic, the former Bosnian Serb military commander, appeared on Friday before the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) for the first time since his May 26 arrest. Responding to the 11 counts against him, including genocide, extermination and murder, and terrorism, he called the charges “obnoxious” and “monstrous” and declined to enter a plea. Mladic, who spent much of the hearing discussing his ill health, will appear before court again on July 4.

Image: Kiva Stories from the Field

April, for many reasons (including Armenia, Rwanda, Bosnia, and Darfur), is Genocide Prevention Month. April 24 is the date Armenians have chosen to commemorate their genocide at the hands of the Turkish state in 1915, and each year on this date the U.S. president makes a statement. But none of them yet has used the word genocide to describe the events. U.S. Congressmen Ed Royce (R, CA) and Frank Pallone (D, NJ) sent a letter to President Obama urging him this year to be the first. Although as a senator Obama spoke openly of the genocide, and of the Turks’ denial of it, he has declined to do so since entering the White House. This year was no different, although in a subtle shift, Obama did use the Armenian term for the genocide, Meds Yeghern (or Mec Yeġeṙn), which means “the Great Crime.”

The first U.S. trial charging a person with genocide is slated to open tomorrow in Wichita, KS, the Wichita Eagle reports. Prosecutors claim that 84-year-old Lazare Kobagaya, a native of Rwanda, not only lied to obtain U.S. citizenship, but personally ordered the deaths of hundreds of individuals during the 1994 genocide in his homeland. According to the Guardian, “The U.S. government’s strategy in the case mirrors its prosecution of suspected Nazi guard John Demjanjuk, who settled in Ohio after the second world war. Demjanjuk was not charged with committing a violent crime, but rather with concealing his activities from U.S. immigration officials.” The website Rwandinfo.com claims that Human Rights Watch, citing First Amendment protection, is resisting a subpoena to turn over information related to the case. The Rwandan government says it welcomes the trial.

Photo: Associated Press

Today we present another Guest Preventer from Prof. Alex Hinton’s genocide prevention class at Rutgers–Newark:

Shant Afarian, Class of 2012, Biology major

My name is Shant Afarian and I am a third-year biology major. In addition to my penchant for science, I have a very deep-rooted interest in genocide. This interest stems from my heritage; I am a descendant of survivors of the Armenian genocide. From early on in my childhood I have learned of the genocide of my ancestors. I was young, however, and unable to fully comprehend the extent of the crimes committed. Now that I am older, I can better appreciate the mistakes of the past, but I still have many unanswered questions. Why, for example, did the international community remain silent during the Armenian genocide? Why was nothing done to end the atrocities that were committed against my people?

Professor Hinton’s class seemed like an appropriate place to have my questions answered. And to some extent, they have been answered, but they have been replaced with other, more daunting questions. These questions deal with the integrity (or lack thereof) of the international relationships that are necessary for effective genocide prevention.

What seems to be the most prevalent issue is the persistence of international disagreement. Unfortunately for genocide preventers, humanity’s best interests and the self-serving interests of sovereign states usually clash, effectively preventing most humanitarian efforts. This conflict of interests, coupled with the ambiguities of the loophole-ridden legal definition of genocide, stands as the greatest obstacle in our path to a genocide-free world.

The successes and failures of the past are examined in Professor Hinton’s class in an attempt to learn from the mistakes of our predecessors. We have examined many case studies and have had the pleasure of meeting and hearing from many key figures in the field. Their inputs have shaped our class discussions; by taking our initially confused outlooks and opinions and reinforcing them with key facts and philosophical musings, they have greatly expanded our knowledge of the history of genocide, thus allowing us to return the favor by passing on what we learned to future generations.

Indeed, as we have seen multiple times throughout the course, the lack of general awareness is a major contributor to the difficulty of effective genocide prevention. The first step was giving a name to the “crime without a name”—by doing this, a previously inconceivable horror was turned into a tangible concept. It follows then that the next step is raising awareness. Once the minds of the general public are as permeated with thoughts of genocide as ours, once we have we succeeded in bringing genocide to the forefront of our minds, then and only then can we hope to succeed in preventing genocide.

Today we present another Guest Preventer from Prof. Alex Hinton’s genocide prevention class at Rutgers–Newark:

Yannek Smith, Class of 2011, Political Science major

Professor Hinton’s genocide prevention course is the culmination of my undergraduate studies. I knew as soon as I heard about it that this was not something to pass up. Here was a unique opportunity to take a class sponsored by the Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Reconciliation, taught by Alex Hinton, one of the world’s top genocide scholars. It includes weekly visits by prominent actors in the field of genocide prevention who come to teach the class about their work and share their views on this expanding field. This is something special, and I am grateful to be a part of it.

When most people hear the word genocide, it evokes certain images: the Jewish Holocaust, the Hutus’ massacre of the Tutsis, perhaps Pol Pot’s Cambodia, and (increasingly) the genocide of the Armenians. These are the most infamous cases of genocide in the 20th century, the ones that stick out the most in our recent historical memory. What the course does a wonderful job illustrating is that these atrocities are not isolated cases. Genocide is far more common than most people imagine; it cuts across class, culture, and ideology. The targets include a wide a range of groups, real and imagined, albeit several that are not included in the 1948 Genocide Convention’s narrow definition. More important than academic debates over what constitutes genocide is adopting a utilitarian approach and looking at the roots of this phenomenon and what can be done to stop genocidal behavior in its early stages.

In class, we are learning to see genocide on a spectrum, as a series of steps or stages that can be identified and addressed. We demystify the concept and look at it through a sober lens. This requires accepting many difficult truths: genocide is a huge part of human history (the United States and the greater “New World,” for instance, were founded on genocide), genocidaires are rational actors (there is always some kind of logic to genocide), and it can happen anywhere. Fred Schwartz, the founder of AIPR, would add that genocide, like rape or murder, will never cease to exist. Humans have always done it, and will continue it, and the challenge therefore is to detect it and defeat it in its early stages, or if it is too late, minimize the damage.

The human rights movement is essentially a fight to improve the human condition; to protect people on a global scale from abusive governments, torture, the torments of abject poverty, and—the gravest crime against our humanity—the crime of genocide. Prof. Hinton and our weekly speakers teach us about the shifting paradigms in genocide prevention, the different legal instruments that are out there, and the challenges and barriers of our current international order and the United Nations system. Things are changing fast, and many questions linger: What is the future of Responsibility to Protect? Why is the world sitting and watching as Libyan and Ivoirian people are deprived of basic human rights? How should we address the delicate issue of sovereignty?

The students in our class are in a privileged position: we are intellectually equipped to address these important questions. I hope that this educational initiative will not end with our class, so that in the future a broader range of students can become active participants in the fight against genocide.

Today, we have our first report “From the AIPR Team,” featuring Samantha Horn, AIPR’s legal and operations associate:

Things are extremely busy right now at AIPR. Our next Raphael Lemkin Genocide Prevention Seminar for CGSC students from Fort Leavenworth is coming up in April, and so we are in the midst of logistical details and last-minute curriculum changes for the program. All is going very well, though, and we are excited to be back in Poland soon.

Our founder and president, Fred Schwartz, will be traveling to South America this month, so I have been scheduling meetings for him with ministries of foreign affairs and justice, as well as with U.S. embassies. Mr. Schwartz will be traveling to Ecuador, Peru, Chile, Argentina, and Brazil, so it will be quite a trip. AIPR works very closely with the governments of Argentina and Brazil and has had participants in our seminars from these countries, as well as from Chile, but we are looking to expand our reach in the region, as in 2012 we are planning to launch a Raphael Lemkin Genocide Prevention Seminar for Latin America, which will be dedicated solely to the Latin American region with the program tailored to meet the needs of these countries, touching upon issues such as politicide and transitional justice. We are very excited about this initiative, and have the great help of the governments of Argentina and Brazil for this endeavor. Hopefully, this upcoming trip will expand our base.

I am also working on recruitment for our standard Lemkin Seminar, for government officials from around the world. The application deadline is March 1, and so I am in the midst of reviewing applications and calling those countries that have confirmed their intent to participate but have not sent in their applications.  A great variety of countries will be attending, including Armenia, Georgia, Ukraine, Nigeria, Niger, Brazil, Argentina, the United States, Germany, and Sweden. I believe this will prove to be an incredible seminar, and the beginning for many of them of their work in genocide prevention. All in all, we are busy at work here at AIPR!

The US Supreme Court reaffirmed that state public school guidelines can exclude materials disputing that the mass killing of Armenians in the early 20th century constituted genocide. This decision, reported in the Boston Globe, is seen as a victory for Armenian groups, even though the Assembly of Turkish American Associations had argued that removing the references prevented students from learning more than one view.

Foreign Policy Magazine, and their online blog Passport, discussed the Ivory Coast, focusing on the escalating situation and the issues of genocide definition and military intervention.  Hirondelle News Agency also reported on the current cases being heard in the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. They also drew attention to the first German trial in relation to the 1994 genocide.  The accused, Onesphore Rwabukombe, former mayor of Muvumba (eastern Rwanda), is charged with “ordering and coordinating three massacres” committed between 1990 and 1994.

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