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Genocide and Human Rights

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What Are Genocide and Human Rights?

The crime of genocide is defined in international law in the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide.

Article II: In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

(a) Killing members of the group;

(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;

(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;

(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;

(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

Article III: The following acts shall be punishable:

(a) Genocide;

(b) Conspiracy to commit genocide;

(c) Direct and public incitement to commit genocide;

(d) Attempt to commit genocide;

(e) Complicity in genocide.

The Genocide Convention was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 9 December 1948. The Convention entered into force on 12 January 1951. More than 130 nations have ratified the Genocide Convention and over 70 nations have made provisions for the punishment of genocide in domestic criminal law. The text of Article II of the Genocide Convention was included as a crime in Article 6 of the 1998 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

Punishable Acts

The following are genocidal acts when committed as part of a policy to destroy a group's existence:

  • Killing members of the group includes direct killing and actions causing death.
  • Causing serious bodily or mental harm includes inflicting trauma on members of the group through widespread torture, rape, sexual violence, forced or coerced use of drugs, and mutilation.
  • Deliberately inflicting conditions of life calculated to destroy a group includes the deliberate deprivation of resources needed for the group's physical survival, such as clean water, food, clothing, shelter or medical services. Deprivation of the means to sustain life can be imposed through confiscation of harvests, blockade of foodstuffs, detention in camps, forcible relocation or expulsion into deserts.
  • Prevention of births includes involuntary sterilization, forced abortion, prohibition of marriage, and long-term separation of men and women intended to prevent procreation.
  • Forcible transfer of children may be imposed by direct force or by through fear of violence, duress, detention, psychological oppression or other methods of coercion. The Convention on the Rights of the Child defines children as persons under the age of 14 years.
  • Genocidal acts need not kill or cause the death of members of a group. Causing serious bodily or mental harm, prevention of births and transfer of children are acts of genocide when committed as part of a policy to destroy a group's existence.
  • It is a crime to plan or incite genocide, even before killing starts, and to aid or abet genocide: Criminal acts include conspiracy, direct and public incitement, attempts to commit genocide, and complicity in genocide.

Key Terms

The crime of genocide has two elements: intent and action. "Intentional" means purposeful. Intent can be proven directly from statements or orders. But more often, it must be inferred from a systematic pattern of coordinated acts.

Intent is different from motive. Whatever may be the motive for the crime (land expropriation, national security, territorial integrity, etc.,) if the perpetrators commit acts intended to destroy a group, even part of a group, it is genocide.

International law protects four groups - national, ethnical, racial or religious groups.

  1. A national group means a set of individuals whose identity is defined by a common country of nationality or national origin.
  2. An ethnic group is a set of individuals whose identity is defined by common cultural traditions, language or heritage.
  3. A racial group means a set of individuals whose identity is defined by physical characteristics.
  4. A religious group is a set of individuals whose identity is defined by common religious creeds, beliefs, doctrines, practices, or rituals.

Genocide is a process that develops in eight stages that are predictable but not inescapable. At each stage, preventive measures can stop it. The process is not linear, but all stages continue to operate throughout the process.

  1. CLASSIFICATION: All cultures have categories to distinguish people into “us and them” by ethnicity, race, religion, or nationality: German and Jew, Hutu and Tutsi. Bipolar societies that lack mixed categories, such as Rwanda and Burundi, are the most likely to have genocide. The main preventive measure at this early stage is to develop universalistic institutions that transcend ethnic or racial divisions, that actively promote tolerance and understanding, and that promote classifications that transcend the divisions. The search for common ground is vital to early prevention of genocide.
  2. SYMBOLIZATION: We give names or other symbols to the classifications. We name people “Jews” or “Gypsies”, or distinguish them by colors or dress; and apply the symbols to members of groups. Classification and symbolization are universally human and do not necessarily result in genocide unless they lead to the next stage, dehumanization. When combined with hatred, symbols may be forced upon unwilling members of pariah groups. To combat symbolization, hate symbols can be legally forbidden (swastikas) as can hate speech. Group marking like gang clothing or tribal scarring can be outlawed, as well. The problem is that legal limitations will fail if unsupported by popular cultural enforcement.
  3. DEHUMANIZATION: One group denies the humanity of the other group. Members of it are equated with animals, vermin, insects or diseases. Dehumanization overcomes the normal human revulsion against murder. At this stage, hate propaganda in print and on hate radios is used to vilify the victim group. Genocidal societies lack constitutional protection for countervailing speech, and should be treated differently than democracies. Local and international leaders should condemn the use of hate speech and make it culturally unacceptable. Leaders who incite genocide should be banned from international travel and have their foreign finances frozen. Hate radio stations should be shut down, and hate propaganda banned. Hate crimes and atrocities should be promptly punished.
  4. ORGANIZATION: Genocide is always organized, usually by the state, often using militias to provide deniability of state responsibility. Sometimes organization is informal or decentralized (terrorist groups.) Special army units or militias are often trained and armed. Plans are made for genocidal killings. To combat this stage, membership in these militias should be outlawed. Their leaders should be denied visas for foreign travel. The U.N. should impose arms embargoes on governments and citizens of countries involved in genocidal massacres, and create commissions to investigate violations, as was done in post-genocide Rwanda.
  5. POLARIZATION: Extremists drive the groups apart. Hate groups broadcast polarizing propaganda. Laws may forbid intermarriage or social interaction. Extremist terrorism targets moderates, intimidating and silencing the center. Moderates from the perpetrators’ own group are most able to stop genocide, so are the first to be arrested and killed. Prevention may mean security protection for moderate leaders or assistance to human rights groups. Assets of extremists may be seized, and visas for international travel denied to them. Military coups by extremists should be opposed by international sanctions.
  6. PREPARATION: Victims are identified and separated out because of their ethnic or religious identity. Death lists are drawn up. Members of victim groups are forced to wear identifying symbols. Their property is expropriated. They are often segregated into ghettoes, deported into concentration camps, or confined to a famine-struck region and starved. At this stage, a Genocide Emergency must be declared. If the political will of the great powers, regional alliances, or the U.N. Security Council can be mobilized, armed international intervention should be prepared, or heavy assistance provided to the victim group to prepare for its self-defense. Otherwise, at least humanitarian assistance should be organized by the U.N. and private relief groups for the inevitable tide of refugees to come.
  7. EXTERMINATION begins, and quickly becomes the mass killing legally called “genocide.” It is “extermination” to the killers because they do not believe their victims to be fully human. When it is sponsored by the state, the armed forces often work with militias to do the killing. At this stage, only rapid and overwhelming armed intervention can stop genocide. Real safe areas or refugee escape corridors should be established with heavily armed international protection. If the U.N. is paralyzed, regional alliances must act. It is time to recognize that the international responsibility to protect transcends the narrow interests of individual nation states. If strong nations will not provide troops to intervene directly, they should provide the airlift, equipment, and financial means necessary for regional states to intervene.
  8. DENIAL is the eighth stage that always follows a genocide. It is among the surest indicators of further genocidal massacres. The perpetrators of genocide dig up the mass graves, burn the bodies, try to cover up the evidence and intimidate the witnesses. They deny that they committed any crimes, and often blame what happened on the victims. They block investigations of the crimes, and continue to govern until driven from power by force, when they flee into exile. The response to denial is punishment by an international tribunal or national courts. There the evidence can be heard, and the perpetrators punished. With the political will to arrest and prosecute them, some may be brought to justice.

Where is this Happening?

Below is a table of Level 7 Genocide, current massacres, as of May 2012

Country

Victims

Killers

DR Congo

Women, civilians, Congo Tutsis

Ex-Rwandan genocidists, mineral warlords

Sudan

Darfurese, Abyei, Nuba

Sudan army, Arab militias

Eastern Congo, Sudan, Uganda

Civilians, women, children

Lord’s Resistance Army

Syria

Pro-democracy protesters

Assad, Alawite loyalists; army

Somalia

Opposing clans

Al Shabaab

Afghanistan

Gov’t supporters

Taliban, Al Queda

Pakistan

Gov’t supporters

Taliban, Al Queda

North Korea

Gov’t opponents

Korean Army

Burma/Myanmar

Shan, Kachin, Karen, Rohinga, democrats

Burmese Army

Ethiopia

Gov’t opponents

Tigrean Army

Countries at Risk of Genocide

Red: Stage 7: Current Massacres.
Orange: Stage 6: Potential massacres.
Yellow: Stage 5: Polarization.

Defining Human Rights

Human: noun
A member of the Homo sapiens species; a man, woman or child; a person.

Rights: noun
Things to which you are entitled or allowed; freedoms that are guaranteed.

Human Rights: noun
The rights you have simply because you are human.

As covered in the definitions above, a right is a freedom of some kind. It is something to which you are entitled by virtue of being human.

Human rights are based on the principle of respect for the individual. Their fundamental assumption is that each person is a moral and rational being who deserves to be treated with dignity. They are called human rights because they are universal. Whereas nations or specialized groups enjoy specific rights that apply only to them, human rights are the rights to which everyone is entitled—no matter who they are or where they live—simply because they are alive.

Many people, when asked to name their rights, will list only freedom of speech and belief and perhaps one or two others. There is no question these are important rights, but the full scope of human rights is very broad. They mean choice and opportunity. They mean the freedom to obtain a job, adopt a career, select a partner of one’s choice and raise children. They include the right to travel widely and the right to work gainfully without harassment, abuse and threat of arbitrary dismissal. They even embrace the right to leisure.

In ages past, there were no human rights. Then the idea emerged that people should have certain freedoms. And that idea resulted finally in the document called the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the thirty rights to which all people are entitled.

Universal Declaration of Human Rights

On October 24, 1945, in the aftermath of World War II, the United Nations came into being as an intergovernmental organization, with the purpose of saving future generations from the devastation of international conflict.

United Nations representatives from all regions of the world formally adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on December 10, 1948.

The Charter of the United Nations established six principal bodies, including the General Assembly, the Security Council, the International Court of Justice, and in relation to human rights, an Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).

The UN Charter empowered ECOSOC to establish “commissions in economic and social fields and for the promotion of human rights….” One of these was the United Nations Human Rights Commission, which, under the chairmanship of Eleanor Roosevelt, saw to the creation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The Declaration was drafted by representatives of all regions of the world and encompassed all legal traditions. Formally adopted by the United Nations on December 10, 1948, it is the most universal human rights document in existence, delineating the thirty fundamental rights that form the basis for a democratic society.

Following this historic act, the Assembly called upon all Member Countries to publicize the text of the Declaration and “to cause it to be disseminated, displayed, read and expounded principally in schools and other educational institutions, without distinction based on the political status of countries or territories.”

Today, the Declaration is a living document that has been accepted as a contract between a government and its people throughout the world.

Amnesty International’s 2009 World Report and other sources show that individuals are:

  • Tortured or abused in at least 81 countries
  • Face unfair trials in at least 54 countries
  • Restricted in their freedom of expression in at least 77 countries

Not only that, but women and children in particular are marginalized in numerous ways, the press is not free in many countries, and dissenters are silenced, too often permanently. While some gains have been made over the course of the last six decades, human rights violations still plague the world today.

Take Action

Service/ Avodah (Avodah in Hebrew)

  • Join PeaceJam's Global Call to Action Campaign and address local and global issues alongside leading Nobel Peace Laureates including the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu.
  • Host a Community-Wide Benefit Dinner to raise awareness about genocide in Darfur and other places around the world.
  • Team up with your classmates and friends to raise awareness and money to support refugee kids in school in the U.S. and around the world.
  • Bring together young people of different religious and nonreligious traditions for service and dialogue around shared values.
  • Advance Human Rights through Social Media: Create campaigns, petitions and garner support online.
  • Be a Good Global Neighbor and provide shelter, warmth and dignity to families who have lost everything in a disaster.
  • Nominate an emerging global nonprofit leader for a year of service with Atlas Corps. Join their growing network of individuals and organizations committed to global service.
  • Put on a benefit concert at your school or in your region to raise awareness.
  • Hold a clothing or canned food drive and donate all of your collected materials to an organization that specializes in sending aid to at-risk countries.

Philanthropy & Advocacy: Tzedek & Tzedakah (Tzedek and Tzedakah in Hebrew)

Human Rights Organizations

Globally, the champions of human rights have most often been citizens. In particular, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) have played a primary role in focusing the international community on human rights issues. NGOs monitor the actions of governments and pressure them to act according to human rights principles. This goes hand in hand with your own personal advocacy campaigns and efforts. Using the political process can be among the most effective ways to make a big difference in the problem of genocide globally and with advocating for human rights. A single piece of legislation can make a huge difference on an issue because of the resources of the federal, state, and local government. Of course, at any given time, the legislation on an issue will change. It is best to monitor advocacy campaigns through these types of organizations that will always be up to date with the latest news and progress. Remember: good citizens make their voices heard to their elected officials.

  • Amnesty International Amnesty International is a worldwide movement of people who campaign for internationally recognized human rights for all. With more than 2.2 million members and subscribers in more than 150 countries, they conduct research and generate action to prevent and end grave abuses of human rights and to demand justice for those whose rights have been violated.
  • The Human Rights Action Center is a nonprofit organization based in Washington, DC, headed by Jack Healey, world-renowned human rights activist and pioneer. The Center works on issues of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and uses the arts and technologies to innovate, create and develop new strategies to stop human rights abuses. They also support growing human rights groups all over the world.
  • Human Rights Watch is dedicated to protecting the human rights of people around the world. They investigate and expose human rights violations, hold abusers accountable, and challenge governments and those who hold power to end abusive practices and respect international human rights law.
  • Simon Wiesenthal Center This prestigious international Jewish human rights organization is dedicated to repairing the world one step at a time. The Center generates changes by confronting anti-Semitism, hate and terrorism, promoting human rights and dignity, standing with Israel, defending the safety of Jews worldwide, and teaching the lessons of the Holocaust for future generations.

Intergovernmental and Governmental Organizations

Human Rights Council:

An intergovernmental body with membership encompassing forty-seven states, the Human Rights Council has the task of promoting and protecting human rights internationally. Its mechanisms to forward these ends include a Universal Periodic Review which assesses situations in all 192 UN Member States, an Advisory Committee which provides expertise on human rights issues, and a Complaints Procedure for individuals and organizations to bring human rights violations to the attention of the Council.

  • United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO): UNESCO’s goal is to build peace in the minds of men. Its work in the field of human rights aims to strengthen awareness and acts as a catalyst for regional, national and international action in human rights.
  • Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees: This office directs and coordinates international action to protect refugees and resolve refugee problems worldwide. Its primary purpose is to safeguard the rights and well-being of refugees. It strives to ensure that everyone can exercise the right to seek asylum and find safe refuge in another state, with the option to return home voluntarily, integrate locally or to resettle in a third country.
  • US State Department Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor: The US State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor strives to learn the truth and state the facts in all of its human rights investigations, annual reports on country conditions, etc. The bureau takes action to stop ongoing abuses and maintains partnerships with organizations committed to human rights.

The following organizations are members of the International Alliance to End Genocide, chaired by Genocide Watch. The Alliance was founded in 1999 under the name The International Campaign to End Genocide, and was the first international genocide prevention coalition. Since then, the Campaign has changed its name to the International Alliance to End Genocide.

  • The Cambodian Genocide Project, Inc. Washington, DC, USA
  • Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, University of Minnesota Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA
  • Center for Holocaust and Human Rights Studies at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, Yeshiva University New York, New York, USA
  • Communities Without Boundries International Altanta, GA; Washinton D.C., USA; Colombo, Sri Lanka
  • Course of Action (COA-NonProfit)
  • Conflict Risk Network (CRN)
  • Foundation for Global Collaboration and Peace
  • Genocide Prevention Advisory Group
  • Genocide Studies Program - Yale University New Haven, Connecticut, USA
  • Genocide Watch Washington, D.C., USA; Capetown, South Africa
  • The Institute on the Holocaust and Genocide Jerusalem, Israel
  • The Institute For Genocide Awareness & Applied Research
  • Institute for Research of Genocide, Canada Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
  • The Interfaith Anti-Genocide Alliance New York, NY; Washington, DC; Capetown, South Africa
  • The International Crisis Group Brussels, Belgium; New York, Washington, DC, USA; London, United Kingdom; Moscow, Russia
  • Jewish World Watch California, USA “Fight Genocide; do not stand idly by.”
  • Jubilee Campaign Fairfax, Virginia, USA
  • Never Again London, United Kingdom; Kigali, Rwanda; Canada; U.S.A.
  • Proof: Media for Social Justice
  • STAND: A Student Anti-Genocide Coalition Washington, DC & 400+ campuses
  • United to End Genocide Washington, DC, USA
  • World Without Genocide Edina, Minnesota, USA
  • United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Committee on Conscience The Committee on Conscience mandate is to alert the national conscience, influence policy makers, and stimulate worldwide action to confront and work to halt acts of genocide or related crimes against humanity.
  • The Genocide Intervention Network empowers individuals and communities with the tools to prevent and stop genocide.
  • ENOUGH Project
  • American Jewish World Service Inspired by Judaism’s commitment to justice, American Jewish World Service works to realize human rights and end poverty in the developing world.

Jewish Perspectives

  • “God created the human being in God’s own image, in the image of God, God created humanity, male and female God created them.” Genesis 1:27. This suggests that man and woman were created b’tzelem elokim, in God’s image. In other words, every person possesses at least a spark of the Divine and needs to be treated accordingly.
  • Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5 similarly states, “A single person was first created to teach that if anyone destroys a single soul, Scripture charges him as though he had destroyed a whole world, and whosoever rescues a single soul, Scripture credits him as though he had saved a whole world. And a single person only was first created for the sake of peace in the human race that no one might say to his fellow, ‘my ancestor was greater than your ancestor.’” This speaks about the immense value of every human being.
  • Jewish texts also make it clear that the sanctity of life was not restricted to Jews. One ancient sage stated, ‘I bring heaven and earth to witness that the Holy Spirit dwells upon a non-Jew as well as upon a Jew, upon a woman as well as upon a man, upon a maid-servant as well as man-servant. All depend on the deeds of the particular individual’ (Tana d’bei Eliyahu Rabbah, p. 48, commenting on Judges 4.4). Thus, merit and respect are accorded to every person not because of their gender or status, but based on the particular worthiness of their deeds.
  • In many ways, the greatest test of respect for human life is in the treatment of the stranger in one’s midst since minority groups generally suffer the most human rights violations. Here it is instructive that the commandment to protect and defend the stranger is the most frequently mentioned law in the Torah, (mentioned 36 times). The Israelites are reminded that they too were once strangers in the land of Egypt, and so they should be able to identify. “Do not oppress the stranger, for you know the heart of the heart of the stranger, having been strangers in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 23:9).
  • Most often, the Jewish view on human rights is articulated as obligations that are incumbent on individuals as well as the larger society. For example, the rabbis insisted that each person must go beyond the concern for one’s self: “Let the honor of your fellow human being be as precious to you as your own” (Avot 2:10).

Pledge Against Genocide

By signing the Pledge Against Genocide, you will be joining thousands of other persons around the world who have personally promised to take concrete steps to end genocide and to protect genocide's victims. You will also be joining a network that can be contacted if genocide occurs.

  1. I pledge to do my part to end genocide: the intentional destruction, in whole or in part, of a national, ethnical, racial, or religious group.
  2. I commit myself never to be a passive bystander to genocide anywhere.
  3. I promise to report any signs of the approach of a genocide to government officials, to the press, and to organizations that can take action to prevent it.
  4. I will protest the acts of planners and perpetrators of genocide. I will not remain silent about their incitement of hate crimes, mass murders and other acts of genocide.
  5. I will assist the victims of genocide and will help them escape from their killers. I will support the victims with humanitarian relief.
  6. I will not stop my protests against a genocide until that genocide is stopped.
  7. I will support lawful measures to prevent, suppress and punish the crime of genocide in accordance with the Genocide Convention.

SEND by mail to: The International Campaign to End Genocide, Post Office Box 809, Washington, D.C. 20044 USA; by e-mail to: genocidewatch@aol.com; or by fax to: 703-448-0222.