Over the past two weeks, Everita Silina has been (intensively) teaching me about genocide. Everita Silina, a visiting professor from the New School, is one of the coolest people I’ve ever met. Over the next few days I will be processing everything I have learned. The facts are disturbing, but before I jump into exploring the worst crimes against humanity, I want to provide an overview of genocide for myself and for anyone interested.
This is the just the first entry in a series.
- Genocide, what is it?
- Genocide, psychoanalytical thoughts
- 1915-1918 Armenians in Turkey (1,500,000 deaths)
- 1932-1933 Stalin’s Forced Famine (7,000,000 deaths)
- 1938-1945 Nazi Holocaust (6,000,000 deaths)
- 1975-1979 Pol Pot in Cambodia (2,000,000 deaths)
- 1994 Rwanda (800,000 deaths)
- 1992-1995 Bosnia/Herzegovina (200,000 deaths)
- 2004-2008 Darfur
- Trying to make sense of everything
What is Genocide?
Genocide, as defined by Article 2 of the Genocide Convention, is as follows:
Any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnicity, racial or religious group, as such:
• Killing members of the group;
• Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
• Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.
• Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
• Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
We immediately face some tough questions: how do we measure intent? Does the whole group, or just part of the group have to be targeted? How big or small is “part” of a group? Do we measure “parts of groups” by percentages or numbers? For example, if there are only two individuals of an ethnic group alive (as is the case for one tribe in Alaska), if you murder one person, you’ve wiped out 50% of their population. Genocide? Where do the Native Americans fit into this? If colonists/explorers killed 90% of their population, isn’t that Genocide?
How do we evaluate Genocide?
Through strategy (does the perpetrator slaughter the people with machetes or in concentration camps, by denying food or water, through rape or forced deportation, or just with dehumanization), the group (national, ethnicity, racial, or religious groups, but what about political, sexual, tribal, social, economic or cultural groups?), the perpetrator (is it the government, citizens, or an outside strong force?), by the outcomes (does the perpetrator just have to kill a few people or succeed, or what if the perpetrator is stopped before going through with the plans? Is intent all that’s important?), or the level of intent (permissive policy, systematic plan, but no evidence?).
Are bystanders innocent?
What about human rights?
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights contains thirty articles that define human rights for everyone in the world. However, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is only a declaration, and contains no laws. One cannot use the articles to accuse people of any crimes. The end of the document contains group rights, but what constitutes a group? The Amish and Christian Scientists are obvious groups. The Amish went to court and won the right to teach their children in local schools up until age 15. In this case, the group wants to keep their culture and teach what they think is right, but is it infringing on the children’s right to a good education?
We face a similar, but more serious problem with Christian scientists. Christian scientists believe that everything comes from God, and anything that comes from God is good, including diseases. But what happens when a three year old has a disease and the child dies from lack of medical care. Neutrality is not possible here. Inaction is an action. The government must either step in and require medical treatment, or sit idly by. Would stepping in and taking the child away from the parents be an infringement on rights if not doing anything means that kids might die?
International Law (history)
After World War I, the League of Nations was established to monitor aggression between countries. The Permanent Court of International Justice was also established as an international court to settle disagreements between countries.
After World War II, the world established the United Nations. Now, almost two hundred nations are members of the UN. (more on the UN later)
The International Court of Justice is a court for state nations and the primary judicial organ of the United Nations. The ICJ (or world court) functions legal disputes between countries or agencies and the UN General Assembly. For example, Bosnia filed a complaint against Serbia for genocide. In 2007, the court came back and ruled that Serbia did not commit genocide because they couldn’t find any intent. The court agreed that there was a genocide, but they weren’t sure who to blame for it.
The International Criminal Court was established in 2002 through the Rome Statue of the International Criminal Court to prosecute individuals for crimes against humanity, war crimes, crimes of aggression, and genocide. 108 nation states are members, but the United States, China, Russia and India have not joined yet.
International Human Rights laws just deal with how governments treat their own people.
International Humanitarian Law
Geneva and Hague conventions began as early as the early 19th century to make rules about behavior during times of war. Initially only concerned with wars between states, laws concerning civil wars have been added more recently. The laws protect civilians, medics, aid workers, the wounded and prisoners of war.
The Geneva Conventions of 1863,1864,1868 said what kind of weapons you could have, banned land minds, cluster bombs, gasses, and anything that inflicts too much damage. Also made a rule that one cannot attack populations that are not armed. Soldiers are only allowed to attack people in uniforms. You don’t attack medical personnel and you must let medical personnel in to help. Naval agreements- can’t mine harbors.
A war crime can happen anywhere and they are just crimes committed during times of war. One must go look at international humanitarian law to see what to charge against someone who has committed war crimes. A genocide is an accumulation of all of these crimes against a type of people.
War of Aggression
A war of aggression is when a country goes to war for self-interest and its not in the best interest of other people. A war of aggression means there was no good reason to go to war. A war of aggression might be when a country goes in for territory. No one has been called on a war of aggression since Germany. Germany was charged with a war of aggression, war crimes, crimes against peace, and crimes against humanity. The UN withheld the phrase when Iraq attacked Kuwait. Today, some try to argue that the US in Afghanistan or the US in Iraq is a war of aggression, however the UN has never claimed the US is perpetrating a war of aggression. So what are good reasons to go to war? Security, self-protection, and when people are suffering from gross human rights violations.
3. 1915-1918 Armenians in Turkey (1,500,000+ deaths)
It’s only appropriate to start with the first genocide of the 20th century- “The Armenian Genocide.” This may come as a surprise or it may not, but the Holocaust was not the first nor the last genocide. Between 1915-1923, Ottoman Turks killed more than 1.5 million Armenians through forced deportation, expropriation, abduction, torture, massacre, and starvation. The vast majority of the Armenian population was removed to Syria where they were sent into the desert to die of thirst and hunger.
Who was responsible for the Armenian Genocide?
The political party in power, the Committee of Union and Progress (the Young Turks) made the decision to carry out a genocide against the Armenian people. After World War I, there was a brief period of calm, but between 1920 and 1923, Turkish Nationalists took up the cause and began the massacres again to promote ethnic exclusivity.
Although the Young Turks tried to keep journalists and photographers out of the area, the international community did know what was happening. U.S. diplomatic representatives and American missionaries reported home, and the international community condemned the Armenian Genocide. In the U.S., there was a public outcry against the genocide. After the war, relief efforts were made to save those left. No reparations were ever made to the people who lost everything, and the Young Turks were never held accountable.
Genocide is defined as, “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.” Armenians have sought for acknowledgment of the crimes committed during W.W.I. but only countries where survivors live, like France, Argentina, Greece, and Russia, have officially recognized the Armenian Genocide.
The present-day Republic of Turkey adamantly denies that a genocide was committed against the Armenians during W.W.I.. Considering Turkey is Israel’s strongest Muslim ally, and it adamantly denies it’s own Holocaust-like behavior- it’s an interesting friendship. Furthermore, for the past 18 years, Turkey has been petitioning to join the EU. How can a country that has yet to compensate, much less recognize the slaughtering of 1.5 million of it’s own people be allowed to claim it has European values?0