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Benedict Rogers

‘Never Again’ must a genocide happen

The 75th anniversaries of the Genocide Convention and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights should motivate us to act
Published: December 08, 2023 11:31 AM GMT

Updated: December 08, 2023 11:56 AM GMT

Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar flee to Bangladesh after facing brutal persecution that UN officials have said may amount to crimes against humanity.

Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar flee to Bangladesh after facing brutal persecution that UN officials have said may amount to crimes against humanity. (Photo: Roger Arnold/ UNHCR)

This week-end we mark two very significant anniversaries which are interlinked and interdependent and matter to the entire world. Saturday is the 75th anniversary of the Genocide Convention. On Sunday is the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Within the Asia region alone, at least two genocides are being committed right now. Both began within the past decade, both impact Muslim populations and both have been officially recognized as genocides by the US State Department as well as by parliamentarians and legal experts around the world.

They are the genocide of the Rohingyas in Myanmar and the Uyghurs in western China’s Xinjiang region. Both involve marginalization, discrimination, dehumanization, hate speech, false accusations of terrorism made against entire people groups, as well as rape, torture, the destruction of places of worship, and incarceration of large proportions of the population.

Across Asia, there are other atrocity crimes – war crimes and crimes against humanity – committed below the radar of the world’s media.

North Korea’s human rights violations were recognized a decade ago as crimes against humanity by the United Nations Commission of Inquiry into North Korea chaired by the Australian judge, Justice Michael Kirby.

In Tibet, atrocities continue and forced organ harvesting from prisoners of conscience in China, particularly Falun Gong practitioners, has been declared a crime against humanity by the China Tribunal. Indeed, that independent tribunal has declared China “a criminal state.”

In Myanmar, where the military illegally seized power in a coup on Feb. 1, 2021, by overthrowing the democratically elected civilian government of Aung San Suu Kyi, the military is waging war against its people which involves atrocity crimes on an epic scale. Just under 20,000 political prisoners remain in prison, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), over 4,000 civilians have been killed since the coup (and that is only the number AAPP has been able to record) and, according to the UN, two million have been displaced since the coup.

On Dec. 7, the UN Special Rapporteur for human rights in Myanmar, Tom Andrews, made yet another appeal to the UN and the world to act, to stop the flow of arms to the junta.

“There is no time to waste,” he said. “In just the past few weeks more than a quarter of a million have been displaced throughout Myanmar. These developments should lay to rest any notion that the military can act as a stabilizing or unifying force. The opposite is true. The junta is an agent of chaos and violence. Its relentless attacks and rampant human rights violations are unifying the country in opposition.”

Andrews added that: “The writing is on the wall for the illegal military junta of Myanmar. Governments, donors, and UN agencies must look to the future and proactively engage the National Unity Government, ethnic resistance organizations, and Myanmar civil society. Now, more than ever, the international community should be working with them to help lay the foundation for a democratic and rights-respecting country.”

A country where thousands have been killed, at least two million displaced, several pro-democracy activists executed and most other pro-democracy activists, including the elected head of government and most of her senior government ministers are imprisoned, along with tens of thousands of political prisoners, is surely a country that commands the world’s attention this weekend as we mark these two vital human rights conventions. That country is Myanmar.

Yet these are just the most egregious examples. In far too many other countries around the region the UDHR – whose drafters 75 years ago, led by Eleanor Roosevelt, included Peng-chun Chang, a Chinese playwright and educator, and Charles Habib Malik, a Lebanese philosopher and diplomat – is also violated or threatened.

Even in democracies, human rights must be safeguarded. In 2024 elections will be held in Taiwan, Indonesia and India, among other places. We must guard against the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)’s interference in Taiwan’s elections, and the influence of religious nationalism, hate speech, violence and the weaponization of religion in Indonesia and India, whether Islamist or Hindutva.

Democracy around the world is under pressure, from populism, tyranny, extremism and war. We must redouble efforts in Asia to prevent democracies in the region from backsliding into hate-filled narratives, intolerance, corruption, or authoritarianism.

This weekend, a lot of fine words will be spoken. The words “Never Again” may well be uttered. And yet in several parts of Asia, those words today are meaningless, as we see “Never Again” all over again. If these two 75th anniversaries are to truly mean something, they must result in action.

Many steps could be taken, but let us focus simply on four for now.

First, study the findings of the China Tribunal on forced organ harvesting and implement its recommendations.

Second, study the findings of the Uyghur Tribunal on genocide in China’s Xinjiang region and implement its recommendations.

It’s no coincidence that both the above-mentioned tribunals were chaired by British barrister Sir Geoffrey Nice, KC, who led the prosecution of Serbia’s war criminal Slobodan Milosevic. Sir Geoffrey knows a thing or two about atrocity crimes: war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide.

Thirdly, study the findings of the UN Commission of Inquiry on North Korea and implement its recommendations.

Lastly, study the multiple UN reports on Myanmar, including those by the current UN Special Rapporteur, as well as the various universal jurisdiction cases brought against the Myanmar junta, monitor the case brought by The Gambia at the International Court of Justice in The Hague, and intensify pressure for the release of political prisoners, and end the bombardment of civilians and accountability for the perpetrators of such atrocities.

Let us do everything possible to cut the lifeline of finance, fuel and arms to the junta in Myanmar, provide a lifeline of humanitarian aid to the people, and bring an end to decades of repression and civil war.

Anniversaries are vital for reminding the world – and ourselves – of the values we stand for. But great rhetoric and moving commemorative ceremonies are only really useful if they motivate us to act.

So this weekend, 75 years on from the enactment of these two great documents that encapsulate the values of human life, human dignity, human rights and human freedom, let us resolve to make them mean more than words, and turn them into a reality – to end genocide, release political prisoners, stop torture, rape and slavery, defend press freedom and freedom of religion or belief, protect human rights defenders and promote human rights for everyone, everywhere, throughout Asia and the world – no exceptions and no excuses.

*The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.

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