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November 29, 2020

 

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Genocide Convention, in effect for 60 years, has failed to prevent many conflicts

New York/Prague, 10.1.2011 19:24, (ROMEA)
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Sixty years ago, on 12 January 1951, an important international resolution, the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, took effect. The first genocide of the 20th century was the liquidation of approximately one and a half million Armenians in Turkey (1915 -1917). In accordance with Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler's theory of a "pure German race", Jewish, Roma and Slavic people in particular were annihilated during the Second World War. The postwar Nuremberg trials of Nazi criminals took place prior to the adoption of the Genocide Convention in 1948.

The Convention was declared on 9 December 1948 by the UN General Assembly in New York, becoming the first international document referring to the concept of genocide. Most countries ratified the document, including Czechoslovakia, which did so in December 1950.

The concept of genocide (the mass murder of human beings) is connected with the Polish Jewish lawyer Rafael Lemkin and the horrors of the Second World War. In the beginning the term existed only in the Polish language (ludobójstwo), but in 1944 Lemkin adapted it for use in the English language as "genocide", from the Greek "genos" (race, nation) and the Latin "cide" (to kill).

The Convention establishes that genocide is a crime according to international law, whether committed during a time of war or peace. Actions intended to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group of people are considered genocide. The aim of the Convention is to punish this crime, the prosecution of which may never be subject to a statute of limitations, and to deter potential perpetrators. The fact that some evident cases of genocide have been found not to fall under the Convention's definition means the definition has never become a generally recognized measurement for distinguishing actual genocides from other, less serious cases of mass killing.

The first trial of a genocide began in the year 1993 with the creation of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY). In addition to others, Slobodan Milošević, the president of Yugoslavia and then Serbia, was brought to trial there. He died during the proceedings in March 2006. Former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadžić was brought to trial there in October 2009. Ratko Mladić, the former commander of the Bosnian Serb Army, is also suspected of genocide and war crimes but remains at large.

The most famous case of genocide reviewed by the tribunal is evidently the Srebrenica massacre. In February 2007 the International Court of Justice handed down a judgment in 14 cases from the Bosnian War (1992-1995). The court found the murder of 8 000 Bosnian Muslims at Srebrenica had been a genocide which Belgrade could have prevented, but ruled that Serbia did not bear direct responsibility for the killing.

Genocide charges have been brought by international courts against two other heads of state: Former President of Liberia Charles Taylor, whose trial was resumed in 2008, and Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who was sued by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for crimes and genocide committed in the West Sudanese province of Darfur.

In 1999, a commission investigating the tragedy in Rwanda said the UN and its member states must "clearly apologize" to the Rwandan people for not preventing the genocide of roughly 800 000 minority Tutsis and moderate Hutus there in 1994. The commission said the UN had failed by not demonstrating enough political will to end the killing. Belgium, France and the USA were also criticized.

The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) has already sentenced many people for their crimes. In 2008, former Colonel Theoneste Bagosora, the leader of the Hutu militia, was sentenced to life in prison for genocide; one year later, Tharcisso Renzaho, the former governor of Kigali, received the same punishment. Other war criminals have also been sentenced by various African and European courts.

The chemical weapon attack on the Kurdish population of the Iraqi city of Halabja in 1988, the killing sprees of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia during the 1970s, and the use of the Chinese Army in Tibet during the 1950s all show the signs of having been genocide. The international community did not manage to effectively intervene in those cases.

ČTK, Gwendolyn Albert, Czech Press Agency, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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