Fireworks Erupt Over US Role at Genocide Conference

February 5th, 2004 - by admin

by Ritt Goldstein / Inter Press Service –

STOCKHOLM (January 30, 2004) — The first intergovernmental conference on genocide to be held since 1948 ended this week in Stockholm with political fireworks when the United States was sharply criticized by an Australian diplomat.

Before representatives from 55 nations, former Australian foreign minister Gareth Evans said US officials had been using the conference to lobby against the International Criminal Court (ICC), the very body created to try crimes against humanity –l ike genocide. The United States has withdrawn from the Rome Treaty of 1998 that created the ICC.

“I’m distressed to hear that the same old squeeze has been put on the national delegations all over again at this conference,” Evans said. “And in the otherwise admirable declaration we have emerging from it there is no mention of the International Criminal Court…this is just indefensible.”

Evans continued to berate the Bush administration for blocking global efforts to create such accountability structures. His remarks were greeted with thunderous ovation.

The dramatic intervention highlighted the challenge before the Stockholm International Forum 2004, as the conference was called. The meeting Jan. 26- 28 and hosted by the Swedish government, drew political leaders, officials, academics and members of non-governmental organizations.

‘Do We Have the Will to Prevent Genocide?’
On the one hand United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan drew support for his proposal to set up a committee on the prevention of genocide. On the other, delegates saw just what could be preventing the prevention of genocide.

Annan pointed to tragedies spawned by a lack of political will. He said there had been deliberate efforts to mislabel genocide, and that some states “even refused to call it by its name, to avoid fulfilling their obligations.”

Annan said a special rapporteur should be created along with the committee on the prevention of genocide, the rapporteur reporting “directly to the Security Council.”

Genocide is a threat that must be addressed with “strong and united political action and, in extreme cases, by military action,” he said. But cutting to the crux of the issue, Annan asked: “The question is, do we have the will?”

Secretary-general of the International Committee of the Red Cross Jakob Kellenberger also saw a “lack of will to act.” US-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) endorsed Annan’s proposal. It said a key facet of the initiative is that no one “would be able to say they didn’t know.”

Describing the slaughter of between 800,000 and 1 million people in Rwanda in 1994, Annan said “a lack of resources and a lack of will to take on the commitment which would have been necessary” created conditions for the disaster.

“Instead of reinforcing our troops, we withdrew them,” Annan said. “The gravest mistakes were made by member states, particularly in the way decisions were taken in the Security Council.”

Annan and others emphasized the need for “clear ground rules to distinguish between genuine threats of genocide, which require a military solution, and other situations where force would not be legitimate.”

Genocide and the ‘War on Terrorism’
In the light of such concerns, the conference debated whether terrorism and weapons of mass destruction were ‘genocidal’ threats, casting the shadow of the war on terror over discussions.

“Genocide: A Background Paper” commissioned by the Swedish Government from Sweden’s Lund University raised further questions.

The paper asked whether “the very structure of modern bureaucratic society is the root cause of the genocidal impulse.” The paper paralleled questions examined by US political scientist and philosopher Hannah Arendt in her book Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil. Adolf Eichmann was a Nazi colonel executed for transporting countless Jews to extermination camps.

The authors of the Lund university paper, professors of history Kristian Gerner and Klas-Gran Karlsson, examined how a “pliant bureaucracy” equipped with administrative skills and weapons technology can come to “solve what were seen as acute political and social problems by murdering human beings on a mass scale.”

Gerner and Karlsson noted such developments in Rwanda. They also pointed out that after Vietnam invaded Cambodia, ending the 1975-79 genocide that claimed more than 1.6 million lives, the “United Nations, the United States and China continued to recognize the Khmer Rouge (which was responsible for the genocide) as Cambodia’s legitimate government.”

The US delegation raised the issue of action against “recurring atrocities” in southern Sudan and the eastern and Ituri regions of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Both the Congolese regions and southern Sudan are rich in oil, casting a less than altruistic light on the Bush administration motives.

In the closing minutes of the conference, Swedish Prime Minister Gran Persson emphasized the need for UN review and renewal to safeguard multilateralism and the rights of the weak. “If we fail, then we will see the multilateral UN becoming weaker and weaker, and I fear such a situation,” he said.