What would Clement do?

A Labour blog that witters on about Clement Attlee. Hurrah for The Major!

The Crime of Barbarity

Since 2001, Great Britain, along with 43 other countries has commemorated Holocaust Memorial Day today, January the 27th, which is the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz in 1945. It is one day out of 365 on which we are supposed to contemplate the meaning of that over used word Genocide.

In keeping with todays theme I would like to consider the roots of our understanding of this modern term, coined back in the 1940s to describe the determine attempt by the Ottoman Empire to wipe all traces of the Armenian people from the globe. Death marches, massacres and infanticide were used from 1915 to do this, as Armenians, being Christian, were seen as potential traitors by the Muslim “Young Turk” movement that ruled in Constantinople.

With the break up of the Empire in 1918, and with eyewitness accounts published in the USA and Germany, this awful history was laid bare. Yet ethnic cleansing carried on in the Balkans and Middle East – the rape of Smyrna as the new state of Turkey looked to delete historic Greek communities from the map, & vice versa. The efforts of British client state the Kingdom of Iraq to wipe the Assyrians out in 1933, these led the Polish Jurist Raphael Lemkin to coin the term “Crimes of Barbarity”, subsequently renamed Genocide in 1944, with reference to the murderous policies of both Germany and the Soviet Union.

Lemkin had tried, unsuccessfully during the 1930s to get The League of Nations to declare Crimes of Barbarity unlawful, and to bring those responsible to account. Finally, with the advent of The Atlantic Charter, and of The United Nations, his hour came; on the 9th December 1945, the General Assembley of the UN passed  “The Convention on Punishment for the Crime of Genocide” –

…Any of the acts committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group as such:

  • Killing members of a group
  • Causing serious bodily or mental harm to them 
  • Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about physical destruction in whole or in part

…& much more besides.

This Convention has not prevented Genocide, but it has allowed those responsible to be tried – whether Serbian Warlord or Cambodian Communist, your crimes will be found out, and you will be tried.

We must sadly remember that today many more do go unpunished – the destruction of Grozny, those Bankers who had done so well out of the Milosivic regime, a certain ex foreign Secretary from the Major years, those statesmen who watched and did nothing whilst tragedy unfolded in Darfur.

On Armistice Day, we pay tribute and say “We Will Remember Them”  perhaps today of all days, our motto should be “We Will Not Forget”


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