60 years ago yesterday, the Genocide Convention came into being, and 60 years ago today, the United Declaration of Human Rights was also written and signed.
The creation of these two framework documents was in the wake of World War II, in which the world had witnessed some of the greatest atrocities to ever occur. And that is the key word: witness. The world had been a passive witness to the inhuman destruction of the Holocaust, and before that Armenia, and before that, many other nameless genocides. The Genocide Convention and UNDHR were both attempts to create a framework upon which the world could build the kind of peace the world was looking for after the Second World War.
Below are highlighted some of the main points of these documents, and what they mean for our movement:
The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide: was established on December 9, 1948, and was the first act to criminalize the act of genocide. The term genocide had recently been coined by Holocaust survivor Raphael Lemkin, and the Genocide Convention defined genocide as:
“ (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."
Articles IV, V, and VI state that those people responsible for genocide, no matter if they are “constitutionally responsible rulers, public officials, or private individuals” shall be punished by a competent court within the country or else an international court, and that all nations are required to help provide punishment for persons guilty of genocide. This is the basis off of which we can build our case for pushing the United States to support the International Criminal Court in pursuing the indictments against President Omar al-Bashir, rebels, Ahmed Haroun, and Ali Kushayb.
Articles VIII states that every nation must call upon the United Nations and fellow nations to take whatever action is “appropriate for the prevention and suppression of acts of genocide”
The UN Declaration of Human Rights:
Articles 1, 3, 6, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, and 28 all confirm the right of human beings to have a personal identity, family identity, national identity, a voice in the political process of his or her country, and basic human identity and the dignity that comes with it. This has been denied to the Fur, Massalit, and Zaghawa in Darfur and the ethnic Karen in Burma, and many other marginalized groups in the conflicts we work on.
Articles 2 and 7 expressly address the issue of discrimination based on identity, which again we see in the purposefully targeting of civilians of certain ethnic, political, or religious identities in Darfur, Burma, Congo, and many other of our Areas of Concern.
Articles 13, 14, and 25 deal with the rights of all to have an adequate standard of living and protection as IDPs and refugees that are currently critically missing from the chaotic lives of the displaced of Congo, Burma, Darfur, and our other Areas of Concern.
Articles 4, 5 expressly forbid the kind of degrading violence that all the civilians in all our Areas of Concern suffer from.
However historical and momentous the creation of these documents are, without an active anti-genocide constituency they remain just that: empty frameworks. It is up to our generation to create the constituencies that will bring these framework documents to life and to actually build a genocide-free future.