STATEMENT REGARDING PROFESSOR WILLIAM SCHABAS’ ROLE IN THE DEFENSE OF MYANMAR AGAINST THE CHARGE OF GENOCIDE
We, the undersigned, who are present or past presidents of the International Association of Genocide Scholars (IAGS), all hold Professor William Schabas in very high regard as a scholar and person. We are indebted to him for his service as IAGS president from 2009 to 2011. He has done pioneering work interpreting the international law related to genocide. He has also played important active roles in legal cases, truth commissions, and other practical efforts to support human rights. We particularly respect his long-time work toward an international convention on crimes against humanity.
It is precisely our esteem for Prof. Schabas as a scholar that causes us such great concern regarding his decision to join Myanmar’s defense team as it attempts to evade responsibility for what a United Nations investigation has demonstrated to be a genocidal campaign against the Rohingya minority. It seems from his writings and statements, that Prof. Schabas’ embrace of “crimes against humanity” in place of “genocide” is a pragmatic preference based on the fact that prosecutions of crimes against humanity do not require proof of “intent.” However, it is difficult to see how that preference could justify his decision to join the Myanmar defense team to make such a legal point. The effect of any defense of Myanmar is to further Myanmar’s impunity for killing, sexualized violence, displacement, and destruction of the Rohingya people. A professional ethical position would not endanger human lives to further a legal agenda.
This is all the more of concern because Prof. Schabas, as a prominent scholar, has a multitude of avenues for advancing his views and having them taken seriously. He could write further scholarly works on the issue. He could advocate for the convention he seeks, Lemkin-style, with lawmakers across the world. Indeed, he could even have presented his views to the International Court of Justice in relation to the Myanmar/Rohingya case as an outside expert without taking a specific side in the case. Given his stature and past roles in international legal processes, his views would surely be taken seriously. But Prof. Schabas has chosen to join the efforts of the Myanmar government to deny its systematic violence. He has, in fact, allowed his own good name to provide legitimacy to a denialist agenda that even refuses to use the name, “Rohingya,” refusing to acknowledge the Rohingya as a protected ethnic group.
We call on Prof. Schabas to sever his ties to the Myanmar government and to pursue his goals regarding international law in a manner that does not contribute to further crimes against humanity, including genocide, against the Rohingya people.
Israel Charny, Co-Founder of IAGS and President, 2005-07
Greg Stanton, IAGS President, 2007-09
Daniel Feierstein, IAGS President, 2013-15
Andrew Woolford, IAGS President, 2015-17
Henry Theriault, IAGS President, 2017 - present