What happened to the promise of Never Again? Time and time again, the promise is repeated following new mass atrocities, yet it is never fulfilled. It is a promise that will shame us for generations to come. Our children and their children will ask us: what did we do when the Yazidis and Christians were slaughtered by Daesh? What did we do when the Burmese military were killing the Rohingyas in Myanmar? What did we do when millions of Uyghur were forced into so-called re-education camps that would strip them of their religion, culture, identity? What did we do when Uyghur women were subjected to forced sterilizations and forced abortions?
The coffins of the victims of Srebrenica massacre are seen in the old battery factory, in Potocari on July 10, 2020, ahead of the mass burial of 9 victims on the 25th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre in Potocari Memorial Center, Bosnia and Herzegovina. More than 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys were killed after Bosnian Serb forces attacked the UN "safe area" of Srebrenica in July 1995, despite the presence of Dutch troops tasked with acting as international peacekeepers. (Photo credit: SamÄ±r Jordamovic/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images) ANADOLU AGENCY VIA GETTY IMAGES
What did we do? At times, we have taken symbolic steps to address the atrocities. But our actions are always too little and too late. Indeed, we have failed again and again to prevent the atrocities from recurring.
The International Court of Justice affirms that the duty to prevent genocide, under Article II of the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (the Genocide Convention), “and the corresponding duty to act arise at the instant that the State learns of, or should normally have learned of, the existence of a serious risk that genocide will be committed.”
What does that mean? It means that states should monitor the situation, identify the early warning signs and risk factors of genocide, assess the situation, determine that atrocities have occurred (or are ongoing), inform their responses and act upon such determinations. However, states are not equipped to do so. As a result, they always act too slow and too late. Their responses are always inadequate to make a difference to the lives of the victims targeted for annihilation.
Over the years, as atrocities have become more frequent, our response has become weaker. As our response weakens, we are telling the perpetrators exactly what they want to hear – that they can get away with genocide. Impunity begets further crime. If we do not address it now, we will undoubtedly see more and more genocidal atrocities.
On December 9, as we mark the International Day of Commemoration and Dignity of the Victims of the Crime of Genocide and of the Prevention of this Crime, we need to remind ourselves of the very duties we promised to fulfill. On this day in 1948, the U.N. General Assembly adopted the Genocide Convention, the first document that defined genocide and imposed obligations on states to prevent genocide and punish the perpetrators. The Genocide Convention was to signify our commitment to the promise of “Never Again.” However, as states have full discretion in relation to how they fulfill their duties, the Genocide Convention is too weak to stand against the powers that bring about genocidal atrocities.
This does not mean that nothing can be done. Indeed, states have been more proactive in exploring approaches that move away from the vicious circle of failed responses, regret and promises. Among others, British Parliamentarians, as a part of the Trade Bill, are proposing a judicial domestic mechanism for genocide determination that then would be used to revoke international bilateral trade agreements with the state perpetrating genocide. As it is currently proposed, the mechanism would have a very limited use. However, a similar and much more comprehensive mechanism has been proposed by Lord Alton of Liverpool with his Private Member’s Bill, the Genocide Determination Bill. According to the Bill, the High Court of England and Wales could make the determination of genocide at which point the Secretary of State would be under a duty to take steps towards engaging international bodies, including the UN Security Council to refer the situation to the International Criminal Court or to establish an ad-hoc tribunal. Unfortunately, the bill is at very early stages and it is very unlikely that it would become law during this session of the U.K. Parliament. However, this is the type of legislative initiative that we need to add teeth to the Genocide Convention and to give us a chance to prevent yet another genocide. And prevent we must.
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