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70th Anniversary of the signing of the UN Convention of the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide

Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide

Approved and proposed for signature and ratification or accession by General Assembly resolution 260 A (III) of 9 December 1948

Today is the 70th Anniversary of the signing of the UN Convention of the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. This is widely known as The Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Despite the significance of this convention, we have seen several genocides and continue to witness an array of crimes against humanity and hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing the atrocities of authoritarian regimes or extremist groups. From Rwanda and Darfur to the Middle East and ISIS, to the genocide of Rohingya in Rakine state of Myanmar (Burma), where an estimated 25,000 people have been killed and 700,000 have fled over the border to Bangladesh.

In her concluding remarks on the occasion of the 70th Anniversary of the signing of the UN Convention of the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, H. E. Maria Fernanda Espinosa (President of the UN General Assembly stated (translation) ‘’The international community can-not forget the victims of genocide, they will always be in the centre of our determination, to never commit the same again from the past’’

The fact remains that since the signing of the UN Convention, the UN has been unable to prevent and punish genocides in a timely and effective manner. The ineffectiveness of the UN in this case is purely because of politics and impunity. There can be no justifications. Early warning systems are communicated speedily on international level, intervention, investigation and analysis of such crimes can be carried out speedily and effectively in a reasonable time. What is missing is the political will and determination on behalf of governments, in particular those on the UN Security Council, the G8 and G20. It is ironic that we are able to mobilise and respond with urgency to cases of natural disaster, or indeed and mostly for political and economic reasons, speedily impose sanctions on certain countries, yet when it comes to genocide, the system almost comes to a halt.

Genocide is a crime irrespective of the time. Failure to recognise it and to hold those responsible for committing Crimes against Humanity creates the opportunity for future genocides. This has been proven.

Further, genocides and its victims should be commemorated internationally with due diligence and respect. Sidelining any would imply impunity, creating the opportunity for others to repeat the crime. Israel’s failure to recognise the Armenian Genocide is shameful. Equally, it is wrong to allow Turkey the denial of the Armenian Genocide. These effectively are  ‘preferential treatment’. In the case of Israel the Armenian Genocide is overshadowed by the Holocaust, while Turkey is given impunity by its main allies, namely the UK and the USA (including Israel).

I would like to refer to two separate remarks pertaining to the legacy of the Holocaust, one from the late Professor Sir Bernard Rowland Crick (political theorist, author and critic – who instituted the George Orwell Trust) and the other the late Uri Avnery, Israeli peace activist, political writer and founder of the Gush peace movement. Uri Avnery sat at the Knesset for two terms.

Bernard Crick, writes “It is terrible reminder of the constantly recurring possibilities of man’s inhumanity to man when driven by comprehensive and false ideologies – racism in that case. The lesson is that outside power have to move in time to prevent massacres and other genocidal events, using force when necessary. I am full of amoral horror that recent events, such as Cambodia and Rwanda, were not prevented, or, in the case of Balkans, the intervention came so late.”

Uri Avnery, “The Holocaust overshadows everything that Israeli people think and do. Our attitude is conditioned by the Holocaust. It conditions Israel to justify any means because compared with the Holocaust any bad things we do is negligible by comparison. It is a standard of comparison which gives a kind of moral permit to do anything. In a way we are still victims of the Holocaust today but in a different way. It twists our outlook on things.”

It is appropriate to end by referring to H.E. Zohrab Mnatsakanyan’s (Minister of Foreign Affairs of Armenia) remarks in Geneva at the Human Rights Council, during the Panel Discussion on the 70th Anniversary of Genocide Convention (CPPCG) 9th meeting. (video clip, start 11.25 end 21.29 min).


(By Raffi Sarkissian)



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