Andre Pasquier: “Genocide and crimes against humanity - early warning and prevention: The role of the international community”
I would like to focus my remarks on what the international community needs to do to set up a more coherent and efficient strategy for early warning and the prevention of genocide.
To understand what this strategy should cover, we need to look to the past and learn the lessons that history has left for us. In this respect, the Holocaust Memorial Museum says it all. The message it conveys is both forceful and poignant. One emerges from a visit to the Memorial with feelings of deep emotion, a firm resolve to reject barbarity and a continuing sense of guilt that at the time we had not been able, or willing, to prevent a crime unprecedented in the recorded history of mankind. Among the questions that besiege us then, the most haunting is this: how could the international community have let that happen, when, long before the outbreak of the war, the Nazi regime had declared and indeed launched its vast plan for exclusion, persecution and programmed extermination? What was it that led to such moral blindness?
The answer to this vital question is all too obvious and unfortunately still applies to the current international environment: major decisions taken by the international community, even when the lives of millions of men, women and children are at stake, are prompted by the national, political, economic and strategic interests of States. Indeed as long as the Nazi regime did not threaten their borders or sovereignty, States continued to negotiate with it. The point of no return had already been reached when they eventually realized the full extent of the drama which had been unfolding and which in fact constituted the core issue at stake in the conflict.
The 1948 Genocide Convention was one response to this belated realization. Together with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, also adopted in 1948, this treaty should at last have provided the international framework for an effective, global strategy for the prevention of genocide. Indeed, the watchword of the world’s nations was: “Never again!” As we know only too well, this was not to be. Once more, the strategic and ideological interests that prevailed during the Cold War rapidly and largely consigned these statements to oblivion. The lessons of the Holocaust were forgotten. The coast became clear for the ideological genocides of the Gulag and in Cambodia to be perpetrated with complete impunity, while those responsible held their seats at the United Nations. From 1975 to 1979, the international community kept silent about the crimes of Pol Pot. Again, moral blindness and the decision to ignore what was happening justified the international community’s failure to take action - with all to obvious consequences.
Since 1989 and the end of the Cold War, massacres have been committed in broad daylight, for all to see: civilians gassed in Iraq, barbarity in Algeria, ethnic cleansing in Bosnia-Herzegovina, genocide in Rwanda and the killings which are still taking place in the African Great Lakes region today. And yet, in all these situations the international community has once again proved reluctant to step in, often remaining passive and incapable, for lack of political cohesion, of acting with the necessary determination - intervening late in Bosnia and in a limited way in Rwanda, when that country was already irreparably devastated in human terms. In all these contexts, political and strategic considerations have still dictated the behavior of the international community.
In spite of everything, a new awareness of the imperatives of humanity is emerging within the new international order that came about with the end of the Cold War. Today it is possible believe that the decisive involvement of the international community in Kosovo has not been prompted solely by security concerns. Similarly, the creation in Rome, last June, of the International Criminal Court is another crucial step towards establishing a world order that will place respect for the individual a the heart of a new plan for humanity. Once it has been set up, the Court may indeed prove to be an effective deterrent against genocide - as long as reasons of State and the overriding principle of national sovereignty are not allowed to crush this fragile hope. In this context, the implementation of an early warning and prevention strategy, whose constant objective should be to stir the human conscience and mobilize the international community, remains an absolute priority for the future. Today we have the means to achieve this, but we can also give ourselves new ones. Indeed:
- The 1948 Convention must be revised and strengthened and its field of application extended to political genocide, which it does not cover in its present form;
- States must be urged to ratify the Statute of the new International Criminal Court without delay for it is obvious that to put an end to genocides and crimes against humanity the vicious circle of impunity must be broken. Universal ratification of the Statute of the court is in that respect of paramount importance;
- Humanitarian organizations whose action is founded on international Conventions such as the UNHCR, the ICRC and the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the NGOs which derive their mandates from public opinion constitute a powerful mechanism of early warning and monitoring provided they are not turned by the international community into an alibi for political inaction when States are called upon to intervene. Too often, over the past years, humanitarian actors were left alone to respond to situations of human distress which had gone far beyond the reach of a strictly humanitarian response. A better defined complementarity of action between humanitarian and political actors must be elaborated;
- It is equally vital that the press and media contribute to this global early warning and prevention effort by rejecting the compromise solution of keeping silent about violations, while bearing in mind that they to a large extent dictate the agendas and priorities of political leaders. The media should devote more attention to forgotten crises and their victims. Even while reporting on conflict situations and crimes against humanity, journalists should also feel responsible for respect of international humanitarian law protecting the victims of war;Technology must be employed as a tool in this process, in an era when nothing escapes the all-seeing eye of satellites; nowadays, death camps such as Auschwitz would inevitably be exposed to public scrutiny;
- Finally, preventive action also - and perhaps primarily - means education. Instruction in human rights and the basic principles of humanity that lie at the heart of the Genocide Convention, the Geneva Conventions, and the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees should be systematically included in education programs the world over. It is high time for these Conventions to become the heritage of all citizens, and vehicles for a universal culture of tolerance and solidarity and respect of human rights.
From now on, therefore, a strengthened and expanded international community, within which the various political and humanitarian players and the media are mutually complementary, bears the responsibility for seeing to it that genocide, massacres and serious violations of the rights of the individual are no longer accepted as inevitable. They need to work together and direct their concerted efforts not just towards building this new humanitarian order - the time has also come to draw up, within the United Nations, a bold strategy based on the moral and political authority wielded by this extended international community.
Today, forging a new political will and moral commitment remain a key requirement in the struggle against genocide, because genocide is by no means a spontaneous occurrence. Like a disease that threatens human society as a whole, it has hereditary factors, deeply buried in human nature, in history and in the collective memory of peoples (which incidentally explains its cyclical recurrence). There are also predisposing factors, as it generally occurs in societies that are beset by political, socio-economic and cultural crisis. And finally, genocide has its pathogenic factors: the ideologies of hatred, of fanatical sectarianism, of perverse nationalism which single out the victims, mobilize the killers and orchestrate the massacres, and which - to justify what cannot be justified - silence people’s conscience.
Over the past ten years, the far-reaching changes sparked off by the ending of the Cold War have revived the interplay of the hereditary, predisposing and pathogenic factors that lead to genocide. Seen from this perspective, early warning and prevention should not be restricted to sounding the alarm and reacting when massacres begin. Preventive action must be taken when the first symptoms are detected. That is one of the most important lessons we need to draw from the Rwanda and Bosnia crises. It will be impossible to spur all the players concerned to take the early action that has been so tragically lacking up to now unless warning is given and heard as soon as the first symptoms appear. Preventive action, therefore, means being able and willing to foresee a calamity - not just announcing that disaster threatens and reacting once it has struck.
I would like to conclude these few remarks by reminding you of the words of warning spoken many years ago by President Eisenhower: “A people that values its privileges above its principles soon loses both.” On the eve of the twenty-first century, I am convinced that these words, which Mr. Eisenhower was addressing to his own country at the time, apply to the whole of the global, interdependent community we live in, which has yet to learn to unite its efforts and devise a plan that will once again give pride of place to the individual. Combating genocide means creating a new awareness of our common duty to uphold the principles of humanity. Combating genocide and crimes against humanity means being willing and ready to pay the price to live up to the principles enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.