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The UN Charter and the Genocide Convention 65 Years Later

This is a guest post by amie

Irwin Cotler has been a Human Rights lawyer and activist from before the terms were minted, became fashionable and then debased.

I listened to this Canadian Member of Parliament and a former Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada talk about the lessons of the Genocide Convention and the launch of a major report into its breach by Iran, to a packed audience of press and then a discussion with activists, at Parliament on 30th June.

A consortium of 100 international law scholars, human rights advocates, former Government leaders, Parliamentarians and Iranian activists for democracy and freedom – The Responsibility to Prevent Coalition – have endorsed this Report on the “Danger of a Nuclear, Genocidal, and Rights-Violating Iran: The Responsibility to Prevent Petition”.

Here are just some of the signatories who caught my attention:

Sen. Roméo Dallaire, Saad Eddin Ibrahim, leading democracy advocate in Cairo, the very brave Dr. Massouda Jalal, former Minister of Women’s Affairs, Afghanistan, Matthias Kuentzel, former Senior Advisor to the German Green Party , Salih Mahmoud Osman, Sudanese Member of Parliament and winner of the Sakharov Prize in human rights ,Prof. Gonzalo Himiob Santomé, Professor of Law at the Universidad Central de Venezuela, Founding Director of Venezuelan Victims of Human Rights, and Prof Ephraim Isaac (the one I would most want at my dinner table).

Cotler outlined the 7 chief lessons learned on the 65th anniversary of the adoption of the Genocide Convention by the UN General Assembly.

“The first and enduring lesson of the Holocaust and the genocides that followed, from Srebrenica to Rwanda, is that they occurred not only because of the machinery of death and the technology of terror, but because of the state-sanctioned incitement to hate…As the Canadian Supreme Court recognized, and as echoed by International Criminal Tribunals in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, the Holocaust did not begin in the gas chambers—it began with words.”

(A salutory reminder for those who engage with the “merely” verbal proponents of extremism)

The whole Report including the list of signatories is here.

It contains what it describes as the most comprehensive, authoritative and up-to-date witness testimony and documentary evidence respecting Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons, its state-sanctioned incitement to genocide, its state-sponsorship of terrorism, and its massive violations of the rights of its own people.

From the Executive Summary:

“We are witnessing in Ahmadinejad’s Iran the toxic convergence of four distinct – yet interrelated – dangers – the nuclear threat; the genocidal incitement threat; state-sponsored terrorism; and the systematic and widespread violations of the rights of the Iranian people.

7. Iran has emerged as the leading State sponsor of international terrorism, including, for example, the Iranian regime’s complicity in the planning and perpetration of the greatest terrorist atrocity in Argentina since the Second World War, the bombing of the Jewish Community Center (the AMIA) in 1994, and issuance of an INTERPOL against Ahmad Vahidi, now Iran’s Defence Minister overseeing Iran’s nuclear program, for his complicity and involvement in the attack.

1. Ahmadinejad’s Iran – a term used to distinguish the regime from the people and publics of Iran who are themselves the targets of massive domestic repression – has emerged as a clear and present danger to international peace and security, to regional and Mid-East stability, and increasingly and alarmingly so – to its own people.

2. The critical mass of precursors to genocide in Ahmadinejad’s Iran constitute not only the prelude to a preventable tragedy, but a crime in and of itself under international law.

3. Iran has already committed the crime of incitement to genocide prohibited by the Genocide Convention and international law. Preventing and combating such incitement by State Parties to the Genocide Convention and inter-governmental bodies is not just a policy option but an international legal obligation of the first order.

4. Building upon the jurisprudence in the International Criminal Tribunals for former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, two crucial lessons of history remain unlearned. First, that the Holocaust and the genocides in Rwanda, former Yugoslavia and Darfur occurred not simply because of the machinery of death but because of state-sanctioned cultures of hate, and, second, indifference and inaction by the international community in the face of such incitement.

5. There is a culture of impunity surrounding the crime of incitement. Not one State Party to the Genocide Convention has undertaken any of the mandated remedies in international law to prevent and combat such state-sanctioned incitement.

6. Iran itself has explicitly linked its genocidal intentions to its nuclear weaponization program as in the parading of a Shiab-3 missile in the streets of Tehran and in military rallies bearing slogans to the effect that “Wipe Israel off the map … because the employment of even one atomic bomb inside Israel will wipe it off the face of the earth”.

The Petition calls upon States in the international community – and the United Nations and related inter-governmental bodies – to heed their legal obligations to hold Ahmadinejad’s Iran to account, pursuant to the panoply of mandated remedies under UN Security Council Resolutions and international law generally.

The Petition concludes with a recommended 18-point Roadmap for Action. There are a number of multilateral and unilateral economic, diplomatic and juridical remedies available in international law which the Report sets out in detail.

Q&A followed.

Iranian activists expressed their appreciation for the work of the Responsibility to Prevent Coalition, and for the bloggers who were keeping the issues alive. A representative of the Bahai community was assured that the Report dealt at length with the persecution of Bahais in Iran.
To a question about the responsibility of the USA for acts of torture, Cotler disclosed that he had represented 2 Canadian citizens before the US courts in this regard, and set up a Commission of Inquiry in Canada which found one man the innocent victim of a violation of his rights by the USA, Jordan and Syria. The Canadian Gvt apologised and awarded him $10m, the USA refused to admit responsibility.

Then came the the question from an Irish man from the Col Travers school of political analysis.(I didn’t catch what org, if any, he represented.)

“Everything you have said about Iran applies to Israel. Israel is committing genocide in Gaza, so why are you demonizing Iran.”

and with the accusing air of someone exposing a shameful secret:

“You have been on Israeli TV saying you were proud of your daughter in the Israeli army.”

Cotler’s response was measured, restrained and unapologetic. The use here of Genocide was a misappropriation of the term. Israel is accountable for its Human Rights violations like any other nation. But not to be singled out for 80% of the 33 resolutions passed by the UNHRC, which had passed not one against China or Iran.

He had in fact 2 daughters in the Israeli army. One spent her 3 years there working with newly arrived Ethiopian immigrants. Although it should not be relevant, she also happens to be part of the Peace movement.

After the meeting, my conversation with Cotler was cut short when I overheard Irish man smarming away to a member of a Jewish Human Rights org.

“Of course, Jews like Ronnie Kasrils were at the forefront against apartheid, now Jews like Kasrils at the forefront against Israel..”

Not being a seasoned campaigner and veteran of Durban 1 and 11 like Prof Cotler, I find it harder to do restraint when the G word rears its head: I told Irish man what some of us Jewish Struggle vets (I abandon all shame at pulling rank on such occasions) thought of Kasrils, then stormed at him that he was trivialising the memory of my grandparents murdered in the Shoa with his abuse of the term Genocide. Did he know the comparative infant mortality rates? Had he ever been to Gaza? He claimed he had. “Did you see genocide there? “ He blustered something about separate buses, just like apartheid. “Don’t change the subject, what about the genocide?”
His comically inconsequential retort was “Well Norman Finkelstein says it’s Genocide.” Stay around for an hour to hear what I think of Norman Finkelstein, I invited as he retreated backwards. But he departed rapidly, still wibbling about Finkelstein.

But that is a distraction. The main thing is- so many press attended and I waited to read the analyses and coverage of a powerful document which should touch everyone who bothers to read even the executive summary. So far I have found nothing in the press.

This report should spur people of principle to challenge those in power in the UK with its action plan.

Here’s just one of the more modest proposals to be going on with: Monitor and regulate foreign offices, bureaus or media outlets that the Iranian regime uses as a source of threat, incitement and intimidation. By way of example, Press TV is an English language satellite channel operated by the Iranian government in London; it should receive particular scrutiny.

One small step..