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This month, HART is focusing on the theme of Genocide. We shall be reflecting on how the international definition of genocide relates to crimes against humanity that continue to be perpetrated in various parts of the world. It is particularly appropriate to do so given recent events in Nagorno Karabakh and Burma (Myanmar); the fact that the Armenian Genocide is commemorated on 24 April each year (recognised by many countries and Wales, but not by the UK); and the on-going violence in Nigeria and neighbouring countries. This short article provides some background to the concept of Genocide. In subsequent articles, we hope to deal in a little more depth on the impact of genocidal actions in our partner countries.
Genocide was first recognised as a crime under international law in 1946 by the United Nations General Assembly and was codified as an independent crime in the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (the Genocide Convention). By December 2019, the Convention had been ratified by 152 States. However, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) has declared that the prohibition of genocide is a norm of international law and is therefore to be observed by all states irrespective of whether or not they have signed up to the Convention.
According to Article II of the Genocide 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:
• Killing members of the group;
• Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
• Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
• Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
• Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
Genocide Watch has identified 10 stages of genocide:
1- Classification of groups of people for deliberate targeting.
2- Symbolisation – use of symbols to single-out specific groups.
3- Discrimination – on the basis of religion, race, nationality or ethnicity.
4- Dehumanisation – denying the humanity of the ‘other’.
5- Organisation – of state institutions to deny human rights.
6- Polarisation – through polarising propaganda or discriminatory laws.
7- Preparation – through indoctrination that justifies ethnic cleansing.
8- Persecution – in multiple ways the targeted groups.
9- Extermination – mass killing by various means. Extermination includes cultural genocide – the destruction of language, traditions, art, architecture and places of worship.
10- Denial – that such events exist or attempt to destroy evidence.
Notably, Genocide Watch has declared that what has happened in Nagorno Karabakh at the hands of Azerbaijan fulfils all the above criteria.
To constitute genocide, there must be proven intent on the part of perpetrators. This is sometimes the most difficult legal point to establish, though there are many actions that may count as evidence for genocide including, enforced marriage in order to eliminate religious or cultural identity; religious conversion with the threat of death for refusal to convert; the taking of land and/ or homes from members of a group, after they have been deported or frightened away; and giving these to members of another group; or the targeting of the educational and health facilities of a group.
Why is it important to highlight the issue of Genocide?
Tragically, crimes against humanity that might be deemed to be acts of genocide continue to be perpetrated in places where HART partners live and work.
The genocide that killed over a million Armenians in the early part of the 20th century has found fresh expression in the conflict over Nagorno Karabakh. Historically, geographically and culturally, Nagorno Karabakh was for many centuries part of Armenia, but was handed to Soviet Azerbaijan in 1923. A bitter war was fought between Azerbaijan and Armenia over the territory between 1988 and 1994. During the recent war inflicted by Azerbaijan upon Nagorno Karabakh, Armenian people, sites and identity have been brutally targeted by the Azeri government and forces.
HART continues to support the Lady Cox Rehabilitation Centre for people of all ages with disabilities in Stepanakert, Nagorno Karabakh, which has seen a big increase in patient numbers, as it supports regular patients and soldiers injured in the recent war.
Burma experienced military rule from 1962-2011, but even when a process of ‘democracy’ was established after Aung San Suu Kyi was elected to office, the military retained control of the Constitution and of the country. For decades, minority ethnic groups across Burma have suffered violence and persecution at the hands of the military-controlled State. Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya have been forced to flee the country in what has been termed an act of genocide. In 2021, a new, democratically-elected government was due to take power, but on 1st February, 2021, the military junta imposed a coup and imprisoned some of the elected leaders.
The people of the country have united in peaceful protests. Hundreds have died and been imprisoned in a brutal clampdown on all opposition. Crimes perpetrated in Myanmar over many decades may well meet the definition of ‘genocide’, and calls for military sanctions against Myanmar and accountability for the military government, have been made to the UN and the ICJ. HART has partners inside Burma, and is also working with Burmese refugees in Thailand.
For the last few decades, the level of violence in Nigeria has been escalating, particularly in the Northern and Middle Belt states. There are many contributory social, cultural, economic, political, geopolitical and religious factors. However, they broadly fall into two categories. The first is the ideological violence perpetrated by Boko Haram, a Salafi Jihadist movement associated with Al-Qaeda and founded in 2002. By 2018, it was estimated that over 2 million people had been displaced and over 30,000 killed in Boko Haram attacks. The second is the conflict between the militant groups of Islamist Fulani herders and more settled populations in the North and Middle Belt states. The Fulani are the primary pastoralist group in West Africa and make up a considerable portion of the population of Northern Nigeria. The Fulani extremists have attacked, maimed, killed and evicted thousands of predominantly Christian farmers. In 2018, the Global Terrorism Index named Fulani militants as the fourth deadliest terrorist group in the world. Tens of thousands of people have been killed and hundreds of thousands have been displaced by this violence. In 2020, the All Party Parliamentary Group on International Freedom of Religion or Belief published a substantial report entitled: ‘Nigeria: Unfolding Genocide?’
International political discourse is often reluctant to admit that the extreme violence in the Middle Belt and other states has the same sectarian dimension as in the north and east of the country, claiming that land and environmental issues are the primary drivers. However, the conclusion of a February 2021 according to a report by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom notes:
Violent Islamist groups continue to pose a significant threat to religious freedom of civilians living in northern Nigeria and throughout the Lake Chad Basin. Boko Haram, ISWAP, and Ansaru have all demonstrated the capacity and intent to conduct attacks on individuals based on religion…..However, militant Islamist groups in Nigeria demonstrate remarkable staying power and threaten to co-opt and “Islamize” other violent conflicts in Nigeria and throughout the region. Thus, these groups will likely continue to pose threats to religious freedom in Nigeria and elsewhere in the future if efforts do not adapt to address the challenges facing the current approach.[i]
Tragically, Islamist jihadism is spreading and is responsible for the massacre of thousands of Christians in Burkino Faso and Mozambique.
Events in Nigeria are closely related to events in the Near East and in the escalation of inter-ethnic/religious violence in other parts of Africa (such as Sudan and South Sudan where HART also has partners). The extremist ideologies prevailing in militant expressions of Islam, such as ‘Islamic State’, ‘Al-Qa’eda’ and associated groups, emerged from the Near East and have a declared genocidal intent against the identities of any who oppose them. Wherever these groups have prevailed in conflicts in the Near East (notably in Syria and Iraq, but increasingly in other parts of Africa and the Near East, the presence of Christian and other minority groups has been almost completely eliminated, with many killed or forced to flee and with many places of worship destroyed.
What of the future?
In 1994, the world stood by as an estimated 800,000 people were massacred in the Rwandan genocide. Ten years later, the UN established a 5-point plan to ‘prevent’ genocide. And in 2014, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon told a crowd: “We must not be left to utter the words ‘never again’, again and again.” However, genocides continue to take place in areas where HART partners operate including in Nagorno Karabakh, Burma and Nigeria.
Meanwhile, our partners continue to offer light and hope amidst situations of deep pain and fear. It is to be hoped that by naming acts of genocide where they are occurring, the international community will act according to their essential human and moral obligations and put peace and justice above political and economic interests. Tragically, at present, there has been little evidence of the international community responding appropriately and genocidal policies continue with impunity for perpetrators.
[i] Feb 2021. Conclusion US CIRF. Factsheet Northern Nigeria.