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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:
- Question and minimize the statistics.
- Attack the motivations of the truth-tellers.
- Claim that the deaths were inadvertent (i.e., as a result of famine, migration, or disease, not because of willful murder).
- Emphasize the strangeness of the victims.
- Rationalize the deaths as the result of tribal conflict.
- Blame “out of control” forces for committing the killings.
- Avoid antagonizing the genocidaires, who might walk out of “the peace process.”
- Justify denial in favor of current economic interests.
- Claim that the victims are receiving good treatment.
- Claim that what is going on doesn’t fit the definition of genocide.
- Blame the victims.
- 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 Erdogan “halted 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.”
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
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.