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Russia-Ukraine War: Ramifications Of Recognition Of Genocide

Dr Melanie O’Brien, Australian Outlook.

Discussion about genocide is currently circulating in the context of the Ukraine-Russia conflict. “Genocide” has appeared from two angles: firstly, as Russia’s justification for its invasion of Ukraine under the (notably false) allegation that Ukraine is committing genocide in its Donbass region; and secondly, some have raised the question of whether Russian atrocities in Ukraine amount to genocide.

Genocide has a specific definition, meaning that not all atrocity situations are genocide. There is a tendency for some situations to be labelled genocide, even when they are not. As Eyal Mayroz has pointed out, this is because “for many around the world genocide is the crime of crimes,” leading some atrocity victims/survivors to believe “that nothing short of the ‘G’ label could capture and bestow public recognition on their personal tragedies.” This is even though other atrocity crimes (war crimes and crimes against humanity) are equally as serious, grave, and tragic. However, recognition of genocide when it occurs is crucial, as recognition of an atrocity situation attracts political and legal ramifications.

Who Recognises Genocide?

Recognition or labelling of an atrocity situation as genocide can be carried out by different entities: states (from a head of state, member of the executive, or parliament), domestic or international courts (in judgments), investigation and analysis by non-governmental organisations (NGOs), and inter-governmental organisations (IGOs) such as the UN (for example, UN fact-finding missions or Special Rapporteurs).

Organisations and Courts

For NGOs or IGOs, genocide recognition is usually ensuring the facts meet the determination, monitoring the situation on the ground, reporting on that situation, supporting victims/survivors, and calling for action against perpetrators, whether they be states or individuals. NGO or IGO reports may, however, avoid directly labelling a situation as genocide, instead noting that a situation may amount to genocide.

There may be political considerations in the decision of an NGO (or even an IGO) to recognise a situation as genocide. For example, an organisation may not wish to risk state funding, or it may have a subjective goal that can only be achieved by using “the G word.” Further, as Mayroz also noted, advocates may be more willing to “hitch the [genocide] label to their causes” due to the belief in the power of “the G word” to influence policymakers.

For courts, affixing the genocide label is a factual question, analysing whether the evidence presented demonstrates that the atrocities in question fulfil the legal definitional requirements of genocide. Courts have placed a high threshold on what constitutes genocide, including an inflexible emphasis on physical destruction of the targeted group. A court’s finding that an atrocity situation amounts to genocide is the strongest affirmation of the application of this crime label, given the extensive interrogation of circumstances that occurs for the court to come to that conclusion and the high threshold that must be met.

State Recognition of Genocide

States, are generally reluctant to recognise a genocide — because if a situation is genocide, this triggers obligations under the Genocide Convention. These obligations to prevent and punish genocide fall not only on the state carrying out the genocide, but on all states party to the Genocide Convention.

In the Bosnia and Herzegovina v Serbia and Montenegro case, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) confirmed that state parties to the Genocide Convention have “a direct obligation to prevent genocide.” The ICJ held that state parties are obligated “to employ all means reasonably available to them, so as to prevent genocide so far as possible.” This is an obligation to act, whether or not the actions are successful. Such acts, of course, may consume time, personnel, and other resources, resulting in states’ reluctance to trigger such obligations.

In addition, states may be unwilling to recognise a genocide because of the potential repercussions such a recognition may have on relations with the perpetrator state.

Consequently, it is rare for states to recognise genocide, and significant when it occurs. For example, many states still refuse to recognise the Armenian Genocide, even though it took place over 100 years ago.

The Ukraine-Russia Situation

Some have alleged that the atrocities being committed by Russia in Ukraine amount to genocide or a risk of genocide. One report published in May 2022 has concluded that there are reasonable grounds to conclude that Russia is carrying out direct and public incitement to commit genocide, that the pattern of atrocities infers the intent to destroy the Ukrainian national group, and that there remains a serious risk of genocide.

In April 2022, US President Joe Biden called the Russian atrocities genocide. The United States has generally been reluctant to make determinations of genocide. While President Biden’s remark was informal and does not amount to a formal government recognition, it is still striking that he made this comment.

In the Bosnia v Serbia case, the ICJ noted that a state’s obligation to prevent arises “at the instant that the State learns of… the existence of a serious risk that genocide will be committed.” Thus, if genocide were to be recognised to be occurring in Ukraine, or even a serious risk of genocide, states would be obligated to act under the Genocide Convention. States also need to implement the Responsibility to Protect principle, under which states should help to protect populations from atrocity crimes including genocide, including through collective action in accordance with the UN Charter.

If the Russian atrocities are recognised as genocide, the legal solutions may be limited, as Russia has an unfortunate history of committing atrocities with impunity (including the Holodomora genocide of Ukrainians by starvation in the 1930s). Russia has already shown it is unwilling to engage with the ICJ — its delegates failed to appear at the preliminary hearing in the case that Ukraine has already brought before the ICJ against Russia relating to Russia’s justification for the invasion (a case supported by 41 states and the EU). Of course, as a Permanent Five member of the UN Security Council, Russia also has the power to veto any resolution proposed regarding its own actions.

However, Russian aggression is already prompting responses from states and private entities, with widespread sanctions imposed on Russia and Russian individuals having a significant impact. Russia has also been suspended from the UN Human Rights Council. If genocide were deemed to be taking place, Russia would undoubtedly be further isolated by the global community.

If genocide were recognised, this also would lead to specific and amplified campaigns from NGOs and the public on Russia to stop the violence in addition to existing calls for cessation, as well as more pressure on other states to act against Russia.

However, it is clear states are unwilling to directly intervene in Ukraine, out of fear of another world war. This would likely not change even with a credible accusation of genocide.

Beyond state responsibility is individual criminal responsibility. With the International Criminal Court (ICC) already investigating on the ground in Ukraine, if Russia’s atrocities amount to genocide, the ICC Prosecutor will be able to bring such charges. Politically and practically, many states and the EU have already declared and supplied support for the ICC’s investigation. While neither Russia nor Ukraine are state parties to the ICC’s Rome Statute, Ukraine has made two declarations accepting the ICC’s jurisdiction. The second of these declarations gave the ICC jurisdiction over genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity committed in the territory of Ukraine from 20 February 2014 onwards. However, of course, the ICC’s greatest challenge is obtaining defendants for trials, and, as Russia is not a state party, it would be unwilling to surrender any Russians under ICC arrest warrant requests. This could mean arrest warrants could sit unfulfilled for years, and therefore no judgments passed on whether genocide had occurred in Ukraine.

Ukraine’s Criminal Code also contains a provision prohibiting genocide, under which domestic prosecutions could be brought, although the legitimacy of any genocide recognition through domestic trials would depend upon those trial being fair and the decision being supported by adequate legal reasoning.

Thus, there are many possible legal, political, and economic ramifications that would stem from a recognition of Russian atrocities in Ukraine as genocide. It is important that such recognition only occurs if atrocities actually amount to genocide, but even if genocide occurs, it is notably and historically challenging to obtain such a recognition, particularly from states.

Dr Melanie O’Brien is Associate Professor of International Law at the University of Western Australia and President of the International Association of Genocide Scholars (IAGS).

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How Netherlands expunged responsibility for genocide in Srebrenica

Aurora Weiss, IDN-InDepthNews.

Thousands of people converged on the eastern Bosnian town of Srebrenica on July 11 to mark the 27th anniversary of Europe’s only acknowledged genocide since the Holocaust. While thousands of Bosniaks grieve over the more than 8,000 loved ones killed by the Serbs, the Netherlands erases its responsibility for the genocide more and more every year. Srebrenica is a missing chapter in Dutch history.

Research shows that more than 70 per cent of young people in the Netherlands between the ages of 16 and 29 do not know what happened in Srebrenica. The chapter on participation in the Bosniak genocide was missing from Dutch history books. The Bosnian community has provided more information about the largest genocide since World War II in the literature on the Dutch education system. Even 27 years after the massacre, the victims’ families and survivors are fighting to be seen and heard. What they are asking from the Dutch Government is to personally go to the commemoration in Srebrenica and express their regret.

In 2019, the Dutch Supreme Court ruled that the Dutch state was partially responsible for the death of 350 Bosniaks in Srebrenica. They were expelled from the UN safe zone under the control of the Dutch military contingent in 1995, liquidated by Bosnian-Serb police and the army forces.

In 2014, the High Court ruled that the Netherlands was 30 per cent to blame, but after an appeal, the Supreme Court reduced that figure to only 10 per cent.

Two years ago, Prime Minister Mark Rutte, on the “Day of Remembrance of the Genocide in Srebrenica”, expressed his remorse and regretted the terrible event with a video link on all media channels, including social networks. On July 11, the day of remembrance for the victims, that was missing. Two years ago, Prime Minister Mark Rutte, on the occasion of the “Day of Remembrance of the Genocide in Srebrenica”, expressed his remorse and regret for the terrible event with a video link on all media channels, including social networks. On July 11, the day of remembrance of the victims, that was missing.

But he apologized to the hundreds of Dutch soldiers who were sent to defend the enclave of Srebrenica during the 1992-95 Bosnian war. Rutte admitted that the Dutchbat III unit had been given an “impossible task” of keeping the peace in eastern Bosnia without sufficient fire- and manpower. The Netherlands has always insisted that its lightly armed troops were abandoned by the UN, which did not provide them air support.

Alma Mustafic (41) was separated from her father at 14, and it was the last time she saw him. She told the Dutch media that the delegation’s visit and education would be a gesture with which the Dutch would show that they do not turn their heads from responsibility for the genocide.

“By talking about what happened and the genocide after the Second World War, we can prevent something like this from happening again on the European continent,” Mustafic told the Dutch media.

However, the event also affected the Dutch soldiers who were held responsible. Before their eyes, around 30,000 Bosniak women and children were deported in just three days. Thousands of women and girls were raped, and 8,372 men and boys were killed.

“If I were the prime minister, I would be much more open about what happened. Recognition is needed; it would change a lot. However, in the Netherlands, it’s tough to self-reflect. I know other soldiers who are still struggling with it. I never had the feeling that we could have done more than what was done. Many ask themself how we could have reacted, but at that moment, we were overwhelmed. It was absolute chaos,” veteran Liesbeth Beukeboom, who witnessed the event as part of Dutchbat III, recalls for the Dutch media.

Because of Srebrenica, the entire Dutch government resigned

The elimination of people took place before the eyes of the Dutchbat, the Dutch battalion of the UN whose task was to protect civilians. ‘Srebrenica’ was the biggest genocide in Europe after the Second World War. Forensic investigations continued to uncover new mass graves in the years that followed.

‘Srebrenica’ has also become the most debated issue in Dutch politics regarding international protection and peacekeeping. In April 2002, a comprehensive government commissioned NIOD report was published. The report on the role of the Netherlands in the massacre in Srebrenica in 2002 resulted in the resignation of the entire Dutch government.

In 2011, the Supreme Court in The Hague ruled that the victims’ families are entitled to compensation from the Dutch state because the Netherlands (Dutchbat) failed to protect their family members. In 2015, NIOD received a new investigative task from the government regarding the circumstances of the fall of Srebrenica.

Bosnian- Serb wartime political leader Radovan Karadzic and his military commander, Ratko Mladic, were both convicted of and sentenced for genocide in Srebrenica by a special UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague. In all, the tribunal and courts in the Balkans have sentenced close to 50 Bosnian-Serb wartime officials to more than 700 years in prison for the Srebrenica killings.

Hasan Nuhanović, witness to the genocide: On July 13, the UN soldiers had a party. He survived the genocide in Srebrenica and ran the “For truth and justice” campaign on behalf of other survivors and relatives of the victims. He is the author of the book “Under the UN Flag”. He is also known for suing the Kingdom of the Netherlands for responsibility for his family members’ death; after more than ten years, he won a verdict.

Nuhanović, the Dutchbat translator at that time, witnessed how the city was falling and how the responsible people at the UN base were not doing enough to save the town and protect civilians. He witnessed the arrival of around 30,000 refugees in Potočare who sought salvation in the UN security zone.

He made a plan with a few people on how to protect the civilians, but he did not find understanding with the mayor of UNPROFOR, Tom Karremans.

After meeting with Ratko Mladic and returning to the base, the Dutch battalion delivered all the men and boys to the executioners over the next three days.

People were also killed near the base. The Dutch were looking at the dead bodies, and sixteen years later, the Dutch veterans spoke out about the fact that they buried some bodies inside the “UN security zone” in Potočari.

Hasan Nuhanović was one of the key witnesses who said that Dutch officers ordered their soldiers not to carry rifles, body armour, or helmets outside.

“Those who were inside and who were forcing the people out, into the hands of the Chetniks (Serbian) forces were in full military gear, armed. Therefore, the Dutch carried out the expulsion from the security zone with weapons,” Nuhanovic emphasized in his media appearances, highlighting the Dutch participation in the genocide. For him, it was a thin, fragile line that separated the role and guilt of UNPROFOR, that is, the Dutch, from the responsibility of the perpetrators of genocide.

When they delivered everything to the Chetniks, including Hasan’s parents and younger brother, 29 Bosniaks remained in the base. Most of them worked for international organizations.

“On the night of July 13, when they got rid of the refugees, the UN soldiers had a party. They listened to music and drank beer,” Hasan witnessed this with his own eyes and was shocked.

In his media appearances, he says that he heard the shots of Serbian soldiers around: most of the men had not yet been killed at that moment, and that means they could have been saved. This motivated him to devote his entire life to the search for the truth and the fight to bring everyone’s responsibility to justice.

Meeting between Mladić and Karremans: “I’m a piano player. Don’t shoot the piano player.”

Photos speak more than a thousand words. The picture of Ratko Mladic sipping wine with the commander of the Dutch peacekeeping forces in Srebrenica shortly after the fall of the United Nations “safe area” on July 11, 1995. is just one such piece of historical evidence.

Then the commander of the Dutch troops in Srebrenica, Thom Karremans, apologized to Mladic for briefly opening fire in a last-ditch attempt to deter Bosnian-Serb forces from entering the enclave. He portrayed himself as a humble “pianist” performing a score designed by others.

” I’m a piano player. Don’t shoot the piano player,” pleaded the Dutch peacekeeper, apparently hoping to lighten the mood, witnesses said.

“You are a bad pianist,” responded Mladic, before offering Karremans a cigarette and a drink.

During the court hearing for participation in the genocide, it was established that Karremans was under considerable personal and psychological pressure at the time he was appointed commander of the Dutch peacekeeping battalion, or Dutchbat, in Srebrenica. According to his superior officer, General Hans Cousy, he was in the process of an unpleasant divorce and was not entirely focused on his military duties.

Karremans left most of the decisions regarding the Srebrenica to his deputy, Major Robert Franken. Last year, a Dutch appeals court found that both Karremans and Franken had reason to believe that Serbs had killed at least some of the civilians by the late afternoon of July 13.

Today retired lieutenant colonel Franken also recalled how Serbian forces forbade members of UNPROFOR to accompany convoys with exiles from Srebrenica. After a few days, he signed a document as a representative of the UN in which the Army of Republika Srpska stated – that the Bosniak civilians left voluntarily.

The appeals court’s ruling said the Dutchbat command violated a standing order from the Dutch Ministry of Defense not to “send” aid recipients anywhere if such action would expose them to “physical threat.” It also cited a fax-text to Karremans from his superior officer on July 11 instructing him to “take all reasonable measures to protect refugees and civilians in your care.”

The Canadians reacted differently in the military operation ”Storm” and protected Serbian civilians.

It is essential to mention how other United Nations commanders reacted differently when faced with similar situations. In August 1995, a month after the events in Srebrenica, around 700 Serbs sought protection at the United Nations base in Knin (Croatia) after the Croatian army liberated the area from Serbian control in Operation Storm. Croatian generals demanded that the refugees be “screened” for alleged war criminals – the same argument Ratko Mladic used in Srebrenica. The commander of Canadian peacekeeping forces, General Alain Forand, rejected the Croatian request.

At the Hague Tribunal, it was stated that Canadian peacekeepers would be violating the “Charter of the United Nations” if they allowed Knin refugees to be subjected to “arbitrary arrest or detention” by Croatian forces to be investigated alleged war crimes. [IDN-InDepthNews – 13 July 2022]

Neoliberalism has enabled genocide in Tigray

Mulubrhan Balehegn, Ethiopia Insight.

Just two months into the war, President Joe Biden and Canadian lawmakers have already used the term ‘genocide’ to describe Russia’s crimes in Ukraine.

These same governments are not only downplaying an extensively documented genocide and ethnic cleansing in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region but also continue to provide diplomatic support to the Ethiopian government.

The rush by Western leaders to declare genocide is happening in Ukraine and to avoid doing so in Tigray, now twenty months into the war, is the symptom of a neoliberal world order whose basic tenets and global policy prescriptions inadvertently produce mass atrocities, and then elicit selective responses based on economic and security interests.

The war on Tigray demonstrates how the global neoliberal project—which is premised on spreading market-oriented reforms, often at the expense of economic security and human rights—enables genocidal violence in the developing world.

The roots of conflict in Ethiopia, and elsewhere, often have an economic basis that is linked to the nature of the free market capitalist system. The 2014 to 2018 protests in Oromia and Amhara showed how identity-based conflicts intertwine with global economic dynamics.

Abiy Ahmed came to power in 2018 with the full support of Western powers, largely based on his plans to implement a dual reform agenda of economic and political liberalization. Key warning signs were ignored and the regime was emboldened by ‘Abiy-mania’ in the West.

Beyond the power struggle at the center, constitutional disputes, and security dilemma, one reason the central government went to war with Tigray was to maintain a pliant regional government that would not be an obstacle to Abiy’s economic liberalization project.

In Washington, the Trump administration sided with the federal government against Tigray’s regional government and thus facilitated atrocities in Tigray. The Biden administration has taken some diplomatic action, but has been criticized by Tigrayans for not doing enough—and accused by regime supporters of trying to bring TPLF back to power.

Other countries with mining interests in the Horn of Africa, most notably Canada and China, have been mostly silent with regard to human rights abuses committed in Tigray.

Meanwhile, refugees from Tigray and elsewhere in Africa seeking to escape from mass atrocities are often denied entry into Western countries, while those from Ukraine are given preference.

Tigray is therefore only the latest case in which global market forces heighten the drivers of conflict and, once genocidal violence commences, Western powers largely turn a blind eye or continue to prioritize national interests despite their empty rhetoric about human rights.

Abiy-mania

Prior to 1991, Ethiopia was ruled by the Derg, a Marxist-Leninist junta that assumed power in 1974 following a military coup that toppled Emperor Haile Selassie, the last monarch.

Derg’s time in power was defined by mass killingsmanmade famines, and civil unrest. The Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), a coalition of four ethnic-nationalist parties led by the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), overthrew the repressive military junta in 1991 after seventeen years of bloody civil war.

The EPRDF, which ruled Ethiopia for almost three decades, achieved an economic miracle by sustaining double-digit growth for nearly a decade in the 2010s. It did so by implementing what Meles Zenawi, its leader until his death in 2012, called a revolutionary-democratic and developmental state model in which the government exerted control over markets and the economy.

The model worked from an economic development point of view, as millions of people were lifted out of poverty and the country became a coveted destination for investors and donors. Between 2000 and 2019, Ethiopia’s Human Development Index increased by 66 percent.

Despite its evident success, Western countries and leaders of neoliberal institutions opposed the EPRDF’s developmental state policy.

The IMF was entangled in a lengthy disagreement with the EPRDF government, as it persistently demanded that lucrative economic sectors such as banking, communications, and Ethiopian Airlines be privatized, despite clear economic and developmental justifications against doing so.

In part to allow itself the leeway to implement these policies with minimal resistance from foreign powers, the EPRDF aligned its foreign policy with the West by becoming Washington’s key security partner in the volatile Horn of Africa region, including in Somalia.

The developmental state model had a dark side as well. It gave rise to a dictatorial government, which, in a bid to strengthen its control of the populace and the economy, sometimes resorted to violencesuppression of rights, and gross human rights violations.

Later in the EPRDF era, the government began to implement numerous elements of neoliberal economics, such as leasing land to foreign capitalists. These grievances contributed to popular uprisings in 2014, which culminated in protests in Oromia and Amhara.

According to senior TPLF officials, at least one US diplomat, Donald Yamamoto, then-Secretary of State for African Affairs, was involved in grooming Abiy to become prime minister. After his inauguration in 2018, Abiy obtained full support from almost all Western governments.

Abiy was so exalted that he was even awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019, a decision that is now widely criticized as premature and ill-advised. To the delight of his Western backers, Abiy promised sweeping reforms geared toward liberalizing Ethiopia’s politics and economy.

Before even starting his liberalization project, however, Abiy engaged in a bloody war with Tigray—one of Ethiopia’s semi-autonomous federal states, which is governed by the TPLF.

Structuring genocide

The causes of genocide in the modern era are mostly structural and emerge from the nature of the global capitalist system.

Free market fundamentalism, as the core ethos of neoliberal policies, has been assiduously spread, even at the risk of encouraging, tolerating, and ignoring mass atrocities.

Siswo Pramono, an Indonesian diplomat and academic argues that neoliberalism is eliminationist and genocidal by design because its agents work to commodify, transform, and, if necessary, eliminate any form of culture, political ideology, or social relationships that are different from or opposed to free-market principles.

The neoliberal project, despite professing an unflinching commitment to democracy, abhors autonomy. Its proponents aim to create a state, citizens, and institutions that are amenable to the policy prescriptions of universal free-market fundamentalism.

If the effort faces any obstacle—for example, when traditional socio-economic and political systems are opposed to free-market reforms and global corporate culture—then the state is either placated or supported by foreign governments, financial institutions, and multinationals while it unleashes violence on a part of its own population that is hindering this transformation.

Abiy has acted to curtail the autonomy of Ethiopia’s regional states, including by going to war with Tigray. He continues to publicly flirt with the idea of returning Ethiopia to its past centralized empire, despite historical evidence that doing so will activate sub-state identities and produce an unending cycle of violence.

When Abiy assumed power in 2018, TPLF leaders and the people they represent in Tigray were framed as obstacles to liberal reforms. The name “ለውጥ ኣደናቃፊ” or “obstacles of change” has been used to describe anyone who opposed Abiy’s liberal reform agenda.

Abiy’s Western advisors were at best indifferent about such framing, and at times encouraged the narrative that Tigrayan leaders and elites were actively undermining the liberal reforms.

For instance, then-US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Tibor Nagy, suggested that high-profile assassinations that rocked Ethiopia on 22 June 2019 may be the work of Ethiopia’s old guard, meaning the TPLF, who oppose Abiy’s reform agenda.

At the war’s outset, the Trump administration provided cover for Addis Abeba while at the same time threatening Ethiopia and taking Egypt’s side in the dispute over the Blue Nile dam. The Biden administration has been more critical of Abiy and enacted some economic punishments, likely because the war has destabilized the country and the region, but at the same time, the World Bank continues to allocate hundreds of millions of dollars in project funding.

Ignoring signs

Genocides never come as a surprise. The extermination stage during which victims are killed en masse is often preceded by earlier stages where governments, elites, and ideologues prepare their supporters for a final assault.

Most cases of genocide, therefore, happen because those who could have prevented them, which usually means powerful Western countries with sufficient leverage over genocidaires, refuse to intervene—such as in the cases of BiafraCambodiaRwanda, and Darfur.

In Ethiopia, intent to let Abiy clear the Tigray ‘annoyance’ to facilitate the liberalization project, many Western actors willfully ignored obvious signs of impending mass atrocities.

Analysts and Tigray’s regional government warned about the specter of a political crisis, civil war, and even ethnic cleansing months before the war broke out in November 2020.

Both before and during the war, state-guided hate campaigns against Tigray, calls for genocide by opposition media, and anti-Tigrayan hate speech—including dehumanizing references to Tigrayans such as cancersbreast-bitersday-time hyenas, and outsiders—by state officials and prominent personalities were all clear signs of genocide that Abiy’s Western backers chose to ignore.

During the war, Abiy’s Western backers supported his administration and trusted his promise of a surgical “law enforcement operation” that would take only two weeks. Even after carnage was unleashed by the government and its allies, they were slow to take any action or show concern.

All forms of excuses were fabricated to depict a belligerent TPLF attacking Ethiopia and Eritrea. Showing the Trump administration’s bias, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo blamed the TPLF for firing missiles at Asmara, Eritrea’s capital, which took place a week after the Eritreans had attacked Tigray.

Mining interests

Leaders of Western countries and institutions offer up only meaningless statements of concern while continuing to do business with a government accused of genocide.

Amid the Biafra-like blockade of Tigray, Western states, including the US, UK, and European Union members, in concert with their neoliberal multilateral apparatuses such as the World Bank, are making business deals with the Ethiopian government.

Other Western countries have enabled the war on Tigray by not condemning it.

Western apathy is best represented by Canada’s lack of response to the genocide in Tigray. From the beginning of the war, the Canadian government has shown tacit support for the Ethiopian government’s war effort.

A Canadian mining company, Nevsun, provided a lifeline to the Eritrean government before it was forced to sell its interests in the Bisha mine to a Chinese company in 2019 after it lost a court case alleging that forced military conscripts were used as laborers in its mines.

A leaked report accused Canada of covering for Canadian mining companies operating in Tigray. Among them is East Africa Metals, a Vancouver-based company that is seeking to expand its existing mining interests in Tigray amid the war. Nevsun’s former CEO, Andrew Lee Smith, now holds that position at East Africa Metals.

The West’s refusal to intervene based on moralistic principles in the face of impending and active atrocities is often attributed to a self-serving and realist approach to interventions. Action and inaction are based purely on strategic factors such as security and business deals, not humanitarian ideals.

Incumbent bias

Historically, the perpetrators of genocide are state or state-affiliated actors.

Despite this reality, Western interlocutors who try to prevent or stop genocides typically rely on established diplomatic channels that are controlled by the very state that is committing genocide.

As the genocide in Tigray continues in the form of a blockade, Western politicians from the USEU, and the UK openly convene and make public appearances with Ethiopian officials—a practice that gives international legitimacy to the government.

It may be argued that choosing to not condemn or be confrontational towards the Ethiopian government is part of a strategy aimed at building peace through gradual, incremental steps. For Tigrayans, however, such normalization of regime officials is appeasement of war criminals.

In early 2021, the State Department announced that it was looking into evidence to legally determine whether genocide has been committed in Tigray. Months later, it was announced that, to give diplomacy a chance, Washington would refrain from making a public determination.

This is a justified fear as there is a precedent in Darfur, where the US initially determined genocide was taking place only to abandon this determination after Sudan showed strong support for US’s war on terror.

Based on the new business deals and loans Ethiopia has signed with Western companies, some Tigrayans fear that the US will refrain from making any such determination in return for Ethiopia making economic concessions and based on geopolitical interests.

In the rare instances when Westerners tried to engage with Tigray’s leaders, they were mainly interested in serving their own business and geopolitical interests.

According to a Tigrayan general, when the Tigray forces were 200 miles from Addis Abeba and the fall of the Abiy regime seemed very probable, the AU’s negotiator, former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, asked the Tigrayans what they planned to do with lucrative Ethiopian corporations such as the Ethiopian Airlines—apparently at Washington’s behest.

False equivalency

Apportioning blame to perpetrators and victims equally, shrouded in a spirit of neutrality, is another calculated and self-serving business move by Western diplomats.

In the Tigray conflict, Western diplomats worked hard to create equivalence in crimes between the genocidaires and Tigrayan forces.

Most notably, the UN allowed the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC), a government-sanctioned body, to investigate crimes in Tigray jointly with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

The result, as many feared, was the distortion of evidence and equalization of blame.

Similarly, President Biden’s now-defunct executive order threatened to sanction not only the génocidaires but also the Tigrayan side, insinuating that both sides in the conflict have committed comparable crimes.

Human rights bodies such as Amnesty International have issued reports of atrocities committed by Tigrayan forces. Tigrayan leaders have consistently expressed their desire for independent investigations, a demand that the Ethiopian and Eritrean side rejects.

There is no equivalence, however, between what Tigray forces are accused of and the genocidal campaign waged on Tigrayans by Ethiopian, Amhara, and Eritrean soldiers.

Procedural hurdles

Western powers are reticent to officially recognize genocide is taking place even when the evidence is damning, as recognition is expensive, painful, and implies a responsibility to act.

In her extensive studies of US policy responses to genocide, Samantha Power concluded that the US has never in its history intervened to stop genocide, and rarely has it made a point of condemning one.

Some of the worst mass murders in the world have not been recognized as genocide by the US. This was the case during the Rwandan genocide in 1994. It also took the US more than a century to recognize the early twentieth-century genocide of Armenians by the Ottoman Turks.

Even if the evidence of genocide is irrefutable, powerful nations have put up many hurdles that make it impossible for them to intervene militarily or otherwise. For instance, US Presidential Directive 25 makes it very hard for the US government to send troops to UN peacekeeping operations, even when an operation is aimed at stopping an ongoing genocide.

Western states continue to waste time squabbling over procedures and issue countless empty statements of concern. Virtue signaling and diplomatic expediency are prioritized at the expense of millions of victims.

The UN’s doctrine of Responsibility to Protect and other international commitments created an illusion that there would be a collective response in Tigray and elsewhere when mass atrocities are committed. In practice, Western politicians are at best bystanders to genocide and, in some respects, facilitators.

Local resistance

Despite the diplomatic noise, no single country or multilateral organization has yet recognized the genocide in Tigray. The few interventions implemented so far, most notably by Washington and the EU, have not stopped Tigrayans from dying either through violence, starvation, or curable diseases.

Powerful Western governments will probably let the genocide run its ‘natural course’ unless they see a convincing economic and geopolitical imperative to intervene.

Tigrayans and other unfortunate communities threatened by genocidal violence can only avoid the fate of annihilation by depending on their own internal capacity for resistance and aligning their resistance interests with powerful neoliberal forces.

In Tigray, given that at least one of the génocidaires, Eritrea, is an anti-West and pro-Russian dictatorship, a rare political opportunity exists for such an alignment.

Nonetheless, given that national interests—such as regional security and neoliberal imperatives—dictate policies of intervention and non-intervention, such an alliance would be fragile and perilous.

Mulubrhan Balehegn is a researcher based at the University of Florida and maintains the blog africanacademicresearcher.com.

The 1994 Rwandan genocide culprits must be brought to justice

Mehdi Alavi, Fair Observer.

Rwanda is a landlocked country located in East Africa. According to the Peace Worldwide Organization’s Civility Report 2021, Rwanda has a population of 13 million, a literacy rate of 73%, a gross domestic product (GDP) of $10.4 billion, and per capita income of $800, which makes it one of the poorest countries in the world. Rwanda is ruled by an authoritarian regime that persecutes political opponents across the country. Journalists and human rights defenders are often killed or disappear. Security forces work with impunity. Refugees are treated badly and some are killed. About 134,000 or 1.2% of the population are forced into modern-day slavery. The country remains a source of, and to lesser extent, transit and destination point for trafficking women and children.

Rwanda has a tragic past. For 100 days in 1994, around 800,000 Rwandans were massacred in Rwanda by the ethnic Hutus in what has become known as the Rwanda genocide. Once, the country was run by the ethnic minority Tutsis. In 1959, they were overthrown by the ethnic majority Hutus. Thousands of Tutsis escaped to neighboring countries. Some of the Tutsis in exile united to set up the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), which began fighting against the Hutu government until a peace treaty was signed in 1993. In April 1994, a plane carrying Rwanda’s Hutu president and high-ranking officials was shot down, killing all on board. Blaming the RPF, Hutu extremists began the slaughters of the Tutsis and their Hutu sympathizers. 

The RPF maintained that the plane was shot by the Hutu extremists in order to blame the RPF and rationalize genocide. Meanwhile, French forces present in Rwanda watched the massacres, but did nothing. The French government has denied this persistently until recently. After 27 years of denial, France was finally forced by its own government commission to officially admit its complicity in the 1994 Rwanda genocide. In May 2021, French President Emmanuel Macron, spoke at the genocide memorial in Rwanda’s capital Kigali, where many of the victims were buried. He asked Rwandans to forgive France for its role in the 1994 genocide. “Only those who went through that night can perhaps forgive, and in doing so give the gift of forgiveness,” Macron said. 

United Nations Measures to Prevent Genocide

The United Nations (UN) Article 1 clearly states that the countries are bound to suppress “acts of aggression or other breaches of the peace, and to bring about by peaceful means,” a “settlement of international disputes” or resolution of situations that could lead to violence. In 1946, the UN General Assembly in its Resolution 96 (I) defined genocide and considered it an international crime. 

In 1948, the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, defined genocide as, “acts committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial, or religious group.” In the case of disputes, the convention made the International Court of Justice (ICJ) the final legal authority on genocide. In 1949, the Geneva Convention prohibited willful killings, torture, property destruction, unlawful deportation or confinement, and the taking of civilians as hostages.

More recently, international law has sought to prevent genocide. In May 1993, a Hague-based International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) was established. The ICTY indicted a number of the perpetrators of the Bosnian genocide in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Those indicted include Radovan Karadzic and Slobodan Milosevic for crimes against humanity.

In August 1993, the Rwanda government signed a peace treaty with RPF, known as “Arusha Accords.” In October, the UN Security Council (UNSC) established the UN Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR) to assist the parties executing the peace agreement. The UNAMIR was supposed to monitor the progress in the peace process and help form the transitional government.

As mentioned earlier, the plane carrying the Rwandan Hutu President was shot down in 1994 and the Hutu government blamed the RPF. The next day, on April 7, 1994, government forces and Hutu militia began killing Tutsis, moderate Hutus and the UNAMIR peacekeepers who were among their first victims.

On June 22, 1994, after two and a half months of killings, the UN finally authorized a French-led multinational operation, “Operation Turquoise”, which set a protection zone in Rwanda to help victims and refugees. On July 15, 1994, RPF took over the country and stopped the 100 days of killings. In August 1994, whatever was left of the UNAMIR took over the French-led multinational operation and provided shelter to thousands of refugees.

In November 1994, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) was established. Headquartered in Arusha, Tanzania, the ICTR was supposed to “prosecute persons responsible for genocide and other serious violations of international humanitarian law committed in the territory of Rwanda and neighboring States, between 1 January 1994 and 31 December 1994.” So far, ICTR has brought to justice 93 persons “responsible for serious violations of international humanitarian law committed in Rwanda in 1994.” 

French Support of Genocidal Hutu-led Regime

In April 2019, the US law firm Levy Firestone Muse released A Foreseeable Genocide, a report based on million pages of documents after years of interviews and investigation. The report found France to be a “collaborator” of the Hutu government in the genocide. The French were aware that the regime planned to exterminate the Tutsis. 

As per the report, the “French government was unwavering in its support for its Rwandan allies even when their genocidal intentions became clear, and only the French government was an indispensable collaborator in building the institutions that would become instruments of the Genocide.” The report concluded that “the Government of France bears significant responsibility for having enabled a foreseeable genocide.”

In March 2021, a French commission found that France bore “heavy and overwhelming responsibility” for the Rwanda genocide. After this finding, the French government could no longer deny its involvement in the genocide. Under international pressure, the French president was finally forced to apologize for supporting the Hutu-led genocidal regime in Rwanda in 1994.

US Support for RPF

Even as the French backed a genocidal regime, the US supported the rebel RPF. Helen C Epstein, a visiting professor at Bard College, chronicled the secret role of the US in the Rwandan genocide in a tour de force in The Guardian. Rwandan President Paul Kagame was “then a senior officer in both the Ugandan army and the RPF, was in Kansas at the United States Army Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, studying field tactics and psyops, propaganda techniques to win hearts and minds.” He flew back to lead Uganda-backed RPF against the genocidal Hutu regime.

Kagame and the RPF were not blameless either. Epstein tells us that Robert Flaten, the then US ambassador to Rwanda, witnessed the terror caused by the RPF invasion of Rwanda. Apparently, “hundreds of thousands of mostly Hutu villagers fled RPF-held areas, saying they had seen abductions and killings.” Flaten urged the George Herbert Walker Bush (Bush Senior) administration “to impose sanctions on Uganda, as it had on Iraq after the Kuwait invasion earlier that year.” Instead, the US and its allies doubled aid to Yoweri Museveni’s government. Uganda’s defense spending ballooned to 48% of the budget. Strongman Museveni allocated a mere 13% for education and 5% for health, even as AIDS was ravaging the country and killing thousands.

In 2022, Museveni continues to rule Uganda while Kagame is the big boss of Rwanda. There has been relative peace in the region but both regimes are based on the barrel of the gun. Under the Belgians, the Tutsis “formed an elite minority caste in Rwanda” and “treated the Hutu peasants like serfs, forcing them to work on their land and sometimes beating them like donkeys.” Today, the Tutsis continue to occupy the top echelons of the Rwandan state. The Hutus may be better treated than a few decades ago but they are clearly second class citizens in their own land.

Time for Action

Like many other countries, Rwanda is still waiting for justice. It is another example of the failure of the UN to stop genocide, save victims, and bring to justice all guilty parties. In 1994, the UN only acted after 75 days of killings. Even then, it chose France, a biased party, to lead the operation. The UN has acted belatedly, inadequately and irresponsibly repeatedly. Genocides in Cambodia, the Balkans and other places are proof of that fact.

The UN usually serves the interests of the powerful and ignores the poor. Thus, we cannot rely on the UN to prevent genocides, crimes against humanity and other atrocities. It is we the people who must assume responsibility and support political leaders who strive for global peace and harmony.

In the hope of avoiding another genocide, we must demand that our political leaders take the following actions:

First, ICTR must continue its work until all individuals, Rwandan or not, are brought to justice. Its mandate must be expanded to include the forces of other countries who watched but chose not to take any action to stop the ongoing killings.

Second, France, which has already appointed a commission, must now form a criminal tribunal to investigate those who collaborated with the genocidal Hutu government in 1994. French troops who watched the killings, but chose not to act, should also be brought to justice. The French cannot be tried by the ICTR because France is a permanent member of the UNSC and will veto any such proposal. So, we must put pressure on France to bring its citizens to justice.

Third, France must make reparations for the loss of lives, injuries, human displacements, and property destruction caused by its illegal collaboration and complicity with the Hutu government. France has a GDP of over $2.7 trillion compared with Rwanda’s $10.4 billion. France must put its money where its mouth is and allocate at least $20 billion, amounting to less than 1% of its GDP, to compensate the victims of the genocide.

Fourth, the US must form a bipartisan committee to investigate its officials who played a dubious role in Rwanda or Uganda in the 1990s. Those who knew about killings and did nothing to prevent them must be brought to justice just like their French counterparts. Like France, the US is a member of the UNSC and its citizens cannot be tried by ICTR. So, it is up to American citizens to demand a reckoning of the dark days of the 1990s.

Fifth, the US must also pay reparations for the loss of lives, injuries, people displacements, and property destruction that occurred during the genocide. The US GDP is much larger than France and the US could easily give Rwanda $20 billion, about 1% of its GDP.  If the bipartisan committee discovers systemic support of genocide, then this amount should be higher. This money should be spent to build infrastructure, educate people, improve healthcare, create means of production and much more.

Mehdi Alavi is an author and also the founder and president of Peace Worldwide Organization (http://www.peaceworldwide.org/), a non-religious, non-partisan charitable organization in the United States that promotes human rights, freedom, and peace for all. Annually, it releases its Civility Report, reporting on all countries that are members of the United Nations. The report also evaluates the performance of the United Nations and the United Nations Security Council.

UN Chief joins Rwandese to denounce ‘deliberate, systematic’ use of genocide

Lisa Vives, IDN-InDepthNews.

NEW YORK (IDN) — Speaking by video on the International Day of Reflection on the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda, UN Secretary-General António Guterres urged the world community to choose humanity over hatred; compassion over cruelty; courage over complacency and reconciliation over rage.

If anyone missed the underlying message, the UN chief had quietly linked the horror of the genocide of one million Rwandans to the “sickening violence” now taking place in the Ukraine. While we honour the memory of those who died, he said poignantly, “we must reflect on our failures as an international community”.

As the Secretary-General spoke, Rwandan President Paul Kagame on April 7 laid a wreath at a memorial site in the capital, Kigali, where more than 800,000 Tutsi and moderate Hutu were killed. The ceremony marked the beginning of a week of sombre events. 

“Imagine people being hunted down day and night for who they are,” the President said. “Also imagine if those of us who were carrying arms, if we had allowed ourselves to pursue those who were killing our people indiscriminately.”

“First of all, we would be right to do so. But we didn’t. We spared them. Some of them are still living today, in their homes, villages. Others are in government and business.”

The Secretary-General drew attention to the principle of Responsibility to Protect; his Call to Action, which puts human rights at the heart of the organization. “I have placed the agenda of prevention at the centre of our work”.

Yet, he added, “much more could have—and should have—been done. A generation after the events, the stain of shame endures”.

“Rwanda today stands as a powerful testament of the human spirit’s ability to heal even the deepest wounds and emerge from the darkest depths to rebuild a stronger society”, he continued. After having suffered “unspeakable gender-based violence”, women in Rwanda now hold 60 percent of parliamentary seats.

And Rwanda is the fourth largest UN peacekeeping contributor, which Mr. Guterres said was helping to spare others, “the pain they themselves have known”.

Meanwhile, Ukraine is in flames; old and new conflicts are festering in the Middle East, Africa and beyond—while the Security Council is agreeing “mostly to disagree”.

While looking back with remorse, the Secretary-General urged everyone to look ahead “with resolve” and commit to “be ever vigilant” and never forget.

“Let us pay meaningful tribute to the Rwandans who perished by building a future of dignity, tolerance, and human rights for all,” he concluded.

“We always have a choice,” he said, “and perpetrators can no longer assume impunity.” [IDN-InDepthNews – 13 April 2022]

Lisa Vives is News Editor at the Global Information Network.

Genocide in Tigray !

Girmay M., Ethiopia Insight.

The war in Tigray has been characterized in various ways. Until recently, the Ethiopian government referred to it as a “law enforcement operation.” International actors, meanwhile, often presented it as a “civil war.”

However, the view among Tigrayan activists is that calling it a “law enforcement operation” is cruel and ludicrous government propaganda, while the term “civil war” is a serious understatement. Instead, the consensus is that this has been a “genocidal war” waged on Tigray.

Although reaching a designation of genocide is a tricky task that must be done by a body of international legal experts, a close reading of accepted international definitions and characteristics of genocide indicates that the war in Tigray is indeed genocidal.

In what can be used as a broad frame of reference, the 1948 United Nations convention defined genocide as “acts committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group.” These include killing members of the group, causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group, and deliberately inflicting conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction on the group.

It is also accepted that genocide typically has eight stages. Although they don’t always come in this order, they are: classification, symbolization, dehumanization, polarization, organization, preparation, extermination, and denial.

Pre-war dehumanization

The mid-2010 protests that pressured the ruling coalition to put forward a reform agenda were mainly directed at the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the dominant party in the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) coalition. Accordingly, to varying degrees, anti-Tigrayan sentiments were expressed during the protests in Amhara and Oromia regions.

These sentiments intensified and were given some tacit approval after Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed came to power in April 2018. Abiy and his administration portrayed TPLF as the sole culprit for past human rights abuses, corruption, and state terror.

In various federal institutions, Tigrayans were singled out—some were banned, some fired, and some were detained. Many business-owning Tigrayans across the country also faced challenges.

Documentaries by state-owned media accused Tigrayans of being the ones committing acts of torture in Ethiopia’s prisons.

Tigrayans were presented as the sole benefactors of the previous regime. Words like “looters” and “Yeken Jib (daytime hyena) were used to describe Tigrayans, regardless of their association with the TPLF.

The ‘us versus them’ mentality of many Ethiopians vis-à-vis Tigrayans was palpable. A pervasive view has been that TPLF, and by extension Tigrayans, are standing in the way of peace and unity in Ethiopia. Accordingly, portraying Tigrayans as a group of bandawoch (traitors) who have never been loyal to Ethiopia was common.

There has been a similar campaign against Tigrayans for many years in Eritrea, such as blaming them for the abuses committed by Ethiopian troops during the 1998-2000 border war and the bad relations between the two countries. Tigrayans are labeled “Agame”, a derogatory term, and the phrase “Libi Tigray” speaks to the supposedly treacherous heart of Tigrayans.

Slowly, such rhetoric contributed to the dehumanization of Tigrayans. To a large extent, it is this campaign that explains the abhorrent cruelty in Tigray committed by Eritrean, Ethiopian, and Amhara forces.

War planning

According to the federal government, the pretext for waging war on Tigray was the attack on the federal army’s Northern Command by Tigrayan forces on 3 November 2020. However, military and political developments prior to the war indicate that the invasion of Tigray was planned well in advance.

Since Abiy took power, his administration has left no stone unturned to quash Tigrayan dissent. Furthermore, the increasing irredentist ambitions in Amhara strained the relationship between Amhara and Tigray. On top of this, Eritrea’s President Isaias Afeworki used the 2019 ‘peace’ deal with Ethiopia to exact his revenge against the TPLF and conduct “political cleansing” in Tigray.

This combination of factors meant that Tigray was encircled. And, after 2018, transport to and from Tigray became limited and increasingly risky due to extortion, looting, and attacks, mainly by Amhara elements.

Fast forward to 2020, the constitutional dispute over the election postponement and the TPLF’s decision to defiantly hold a regional election on 9 September was the final act in the path to conflict between the federal and Tigrayan governments.

In October 2020, the central government suspended most aid to Tigray, including anti-locust air sprays, and said it would redirect the budget. Diplomats, journalists, and investors were often prevented from entering the region. Around the same time, the military mobilization by the central government and allies around Tigray put the region’s TPLF government on the defensive.

Preparation and mobilization by federal troops and allies began prior to 3 November. As admitted by Abere Adamu, the late Chief of the Amhara Regional State Police Commission, Amhara forces were already prepared and standing by at strategic locations close to Southern and Western Tigray before the war began. To the north, Eritrean forces were also fully prepared. As for Abiy, he had already told top party officials in mid-October that he is about to invade Tigray and oust the regional leaders.

We later learned that the preparation and organization also involved other foreign nations aside from Eritrea. Contingents of Somalia’s army and UAE drones were used during the initial stages. Later on, drones from Turkey and Iran were employed.

Hateful rhetoric

Amid the war, genocidal rhetoric has been abundant and was backed up by concrete actions, such as the targeting of Tigrayans for arrest based on their ethnicity.

Although not all supporters of the war may share these sentiments, there was a clear intention by some to exterminate a substantial number of Tigrayan civilians to subjugate the population and eliminate any possibility of further rebellion.

Behind closed doors, high-level Ethiopian officials reportedly told Pekka Haavisto, former special envoy of the European Union, that they plan to “wipe out” Tigrayans and put them “back 100 years.”

In one of his numerous hateful speeches, Daniel Kibret, a member of parliament and an advisor to the Prime Minister, said that TPLF and its supporters “should be erased and disappeared from historical records.” He then went on to liken them to Satan, stating that: “Satan was the last of his kind, and they must also remain the last of their kind.”

At times, the Prime Minister has also made similar speeches. In comments that received widespread international criticism, he has used words like “cancer”, “weeds”, and “diseases” to describe TPLF and its sympathizers.

Although the usual response to such accusations from federal government sympathizers is that these comments are directed at TPLF and not Tigrayans, what has happened on the ground—including to Tigrayans outside of Tigray—indicates otherwise.

In particular, as Tigray’s forces were capturing Amhara cities in their march towards Addis Abeba, many prominent figures were openly saying Tigrayan civilians are targets. For example, Amhara opposition leaders such as Yesuf Ibrahim were saying Tigrayan “traitors” should no longer be tolerated while journalists such as ESAT’s Messay Mekonnen said the government should put Tigrayans in internment camps.

These calls then materialized, as hundreds of thousands of innocent Tigrayans across the country were singled out for their identity and detained in camps amid a new wave of ethnically targeted arrests that began in October 2021 and accelerated under the State of Emergency enacted early the following month.

Civilians targeted

The fact that countless Tigrayan civilians were murdered, raped, starved, and ethnically cleansed demonstrates that it is Tigrayans, not just the TPLF, who were being targeted for extermination.

Since the war on Tigray started, Ethiopian federal forces and their allies have been accused of conducting many massacres of civilians, including in AxumMaryam DengelatBoraAbi AddiHawzenMahbere DegoIdaga HamusCheli, and Abala, among others.

A research project at the University of Ghent has identified the sites of over one hundred massacres in Tigray. The level of cruelty exhibited during the mass killings, gang rapes, property looting and destruction, and torture is unspeakable.

Shockingly, some Eritrean prisoners of war have confirmed that they were ordered to kill all Tigrayans above the age of ten and also to prevent people from burying victims. Indeed, in various massacre sites, teens were killed while family members of murdered victims were prevented from burying their loved ones.

What’s arguably more shocking than the atrocities is the level of impunity that exists. Of those who engaged in atrocities, only a few low-level soldiers have been prosecuted by the government.

Attesting to this complete lack of accountability, perpetrators feel comfortable filming themselves committing the atrocities. The Mahbere Dego massacre was one incident in which members of the Ethiopian army filmed themselves killing several unarmed Tigrayan men at a cliff edge. Recently, a video of men in Ethiopian military and regional security uniforms burning Tigrayans alive emerged.

These targeted killings of civilians are above and beyond the wartime casualties caused by the fighting, indiscriminate shelling of civilian areas, and government airstrikes.

There is also evidence that rape has been used systematically as a weapon of war against Tigrayans, and was not merely the result of a few undisciplined soldiers.

Tigrayan victims of rape by Ethiopian forces and their allies recalled the rapists using phrases like “Tigrayans have no history”, “Tigrayans are beasts”, and even “we are raping you to cleanse your Tigrayan bloodline.” Some went as far as inserting hot metal rods and nails into the genitals of Tigrayan victims with the intention of making sure that Tigrayan wombs never give birth to a “Woyane.”

Perhaps most shockingly, the genocidal campaign includes the medieval siege on Tigray and reports of starvation crimes that have been committed.

Some analysts have described this as a purposeful campaign to starve the civilian population as a strategy to destroy the Tigray forces and punish Tigrayans for supporting them.

During the occupation of Tigray from December 2020 to June 2021, farmers were reportedly inhibited from planting their crops and had their livestock looted, along with other essential items.

Since the invading forces were expelled, there has been a renewed humanitarian blockade imposed on the region. Only a trickle of aid has been allowed in, a policy that has exacerbated famine conditions. This means that the close to 40 percent of people in Tigray who are facing an extreme lack of food and the 83 percent who are food insecure will continue to suffer.

Deaths will keep climbing due to a lack of medication and other health equipment. It is important to note that Tigray’s health infrastructure has completely collapsed as a result of the war and the widespread looting and destruction.

In addition, basic services such as telecommunications, banking, and electricity have been almost completely cut off across Tigray for over a year, causing immense suffering. The government is capable of both fully lifting the humanitarian blockade and restoring basic services. Its unwillingness to do so shows the genocidal intent behind its war campaign.

Also, in what Antony Blinken, the US Secretary of State, rightly called an act of ethnic cleansing, around one million Tigrayans have been displaced from Western Tigray by Amhara forces. Amhara authorities and allied forces have reportedly taken over entire communities such as Humera and rounded Tigrayans up or violently forced them out.

After a year and a half, we are now getting some insight into the total death toll in Tigray. Recently, researchers at the University of Ghent estimated that as many as 500,000 people may have died from war and famine in Tigray. Somewhere between 50,000 to 100,000 were victims of direct killing, over 150,000 died as a result of starvation, and over 100,000 deaths were caused by the lack of health care.

Denial

The genocidal campaign in Tigray has included an element of denial, as is commonplace during other such campaigns that have historically occurred.

Initially, the Prime Minister denied the death of civilians in Tigray. He even went as far as saying, in front of Parliament, that “not even a single civilian was killed.” Then, there was the denial for close to six months about the intervention of Eritrean troops and subsequent human rights violations they were engaged in.

Widespread displacement, rape, and mass killings were all either denied, whitewashed, or justified. In parliament, Abiy mocked the rapes in Tigray by saying they are not that bad when compared to the 3 November attack Tigrayan forces committed against the Ethiopian army.

There were denials and justifications even when the crimes were caught on videotape, such as in Mahbere Dego. Today, the famine in Tigray and the government-imposed siege is constantly being denied.

In their totality, the crimes outlined here are indicative of a genocidal mindset that is behind the manner in which the war on Tigray has been conducted by Ethiopian and Eritrean forces. Hatred of and a desire to destroy a political party, the TPLF, have been used to justify inhumane policies that threaten the existence of Tigrayans as a people.

Girmay M. (Ph.D.) doesn’t identify himself for safety reasons.

Bosnia genocide denial stirs tension

Julia Crawford, Justice Info.

The outgoing UN High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina’s rare use of his executive powers to ban genocide denial is causing political waves, including threats of “dissolution” from the Serb leader of the joint presidency. Will this controversial move help or hinder peace and justice, and how might the new legal provisions be applied?

Just a week before handing over, on August 1, UN High Representative for Bosnia Valentin Inzko of Austria used his so-called “Bonn powers” under the 1995 Dayton Agreement to amend the Bosnian Criminal Code. The goal is to penalize those who “publicly approve, deny, grossly minimise or attempt to justify the crime of genocide, crime against humanity and war crime”, and make them liable to jail sentences of six months to five years. In practice, this would relate to denials of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre of Muslim Bosniaks by Serb forces, which has been deemed genocide by both the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

Emir Suljagić, director of the Srebrenica Memorial Center, says Inzko’s move is a “relief” in a climate of increasing genocide denial by some Bosnian Serbs and in Serbia. “If you’re a survivor, what you hear in genocide denial is ‘we will do it again and, by the way, what we did last time wasn’t really genocide’,” he told Justice Info. “I hear it as a threat, and a promise of more violence.”

But for many Serbs, the idea of criminalizing genocide denial is an affront to their very identity. “This legal term of genocide has a lot of political weight,” Luka Šterić, a researcher at the Belgrade Centre for Security Policy, told Justice Info. “The [Serb] population are very unwilling to accept that, and you can’t impose a narrative, you have to try to change it slowly.” Šterić says it will only deepen the existing constitutional and institutional crisis in Bosnia and fuel the narrative among some Serbs that what happened in Srebrenica involved serious crimes but was not genocide. Otherwise, he says, Bosnian Serbs fear their entity will be seen as founded on genocide. “In Republika Srpska, very few people will accept the decision by the Hague tribunal several times that there has been a genocide in Srebrenica, because in their heads that would delegitimize the whole notion of existence for Republika Srpska.”

SERB BACKLASH

Backlash from leaders of the Bosnian Serb entity Republika Srpska was swift. Since August, they have been boycotting federal institutions and refusing to talk to the new High Representative, Christian Schmidt of Germany. In addition, the Bosnian Serb assembly has passed amendments to the Criminal Code of Republika Srpska introducing criminal punishments for anyone who presents the entity as genocidal, and some hardliners have said that police will, in the event, prevent imprisonment of any Serbs accused of genocide denial. Šterić says it has deepened not only political but also legal instability in the country, with two criminal codes that are diametrically opposed, and this will not serve victims. He thinks Inzko’s decision is “very unproductive”. “If the goal was to serve transitional justice and change the narrative in Bosnia, it has actually had the completely opposite impact,” he told Justice Info.

Inzko’s decision was hailed as “historic” by the leaders of Bosnia’s Muslim-Croat entity. Bakir Izetbegovic, leader of the main Bosnian party (SDA), congratulated Inzko “for having ended his term of office in Bosnia with dignity”.

But the hardline Serb member of Bosnia’s tri-member presidency Milorad Dodik called Inzko’s move a “red line”. In an act of provocation, he reiterated that what happened in Srebrenica was not genocide and challenged federal prosecutors to come and get him.

WILL THE NEW BAN BE APPLIED?

In this fraught context, Šterić doubts the criminal penalties will be applied, or only “to some very limited extent just to demonstrate that they’re alive”. The courts will be aware of the political and social consequences of jailing Serbs for genocide denial, he believes.

Suljagić is not confident either that the new penalties will be applied. “There is more than enough material for the prosecutor of Bosnia-Herzegovina to move on this. But we’re not seeing it, because the Bosnian judiciary and the office of the Bosnian Prosecutor are deeply, deeply corrupt,” he told Justice Info.

CLIMATE OF GENOCIDE DENIAL

Inzko justified his last minute move in a statement, saying he decided to use his powers after waiting years for Bosnia’s politicians to act. He cited a refusal by the Bosnian Serb assembly to withdraw decorations awarded to three convicted war criminals. “The situation has gotten worse and is now getting out of hand. Therefore, I believe it is now necessary to regulate this matter with legal solutions,” he stated.

In June, the Srebrenica Memorial Center’s latest report noted that “genocide denial, including the glorification of war crimes and criminals, remains widespread in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) and neighbouring countries.” Over the course of the past year, the Center identified 234 instances of genocide denial in the regional public and media discourse. The vast majority occurred in Serbia (142), followed by BiH (60), and Montenegro (19). The three most common rhetorical tactics used, according to the report, are “disputing the number and identity of victims”, “conspiracy theories which challenge the rulings and integrity of international courts”, and “nationalist historical revisionism”. The Center published its first report on genocide denial in 2020 but did not quantify cases in the same way, making a comparison difficult.

Suljagić says the Bosnian Serb entity has invested political efforts and money “in its genocide denial strategy”. Notably, in an attempt to convince the international community, it mandated a nominally independent “International commission of inquiry on the sufferings of all peoples in the Srebrenica region between 1992 and 1995”, led by an Israeli. Although nuanced with an understanding that heinous crimes were committed and should be punished, the report of that commission concludes that “neither an individual crime of genocide nor genocide in general took place in Srebrenica”.

Suljagić dismisses the authors of this report as mostly anti-Muslim extremists. Šterić thinks the credibility of the commission is not even an issue, as it is just part of ongoing Serb efforts to get their narrative heard.

WHAT’S NEXT?

Šterić thinks Inzko’s belated move might signal a desire of the international community to get tougher on Bosnia, with its institutional fragility and eternal existential tensions, not only between Bosniaks and Serbs but amongst Serbs and between Bosniaks and Croats. The “Bonn powers” conferred on the High Representative give him the right to act in case of a political stalemate and “impose his will” to break it, explains Šterić. These powers were used a lot during the 1990s, just after the end of the Bosnian war when the new institutions were young. But until July 2021, they had not been used for 12 years. “The fact that this precedent has been set and the powers have been used after all this time maybe demonstrates that the international community is sick and tired of this political crisis in Bosnia,” he says. “Maybe there’s an attempt to create change, to revive this mechanism of action to try and overcome the dysfunctions of the institutions.”

But he still thinks it is counterproductive. The genocide denial ban is likely to fuel more rhetoric on all sides, adds Šterić, but all political sides are aware of the consequences of taking this further. “I don’t think that Republika Srpska has the support of any significant international actor to push forward with some kind of independence,” he says, while pointing out that crises in the Balkans are nevertheless unpredictable.

Meanwhile the new High Representative, in office since August, seems to be taking a rather neutral and conciliatory stance so far, say both Šterić and Suljagić. But it remains to be seen.

Julia Crawford is a journalist and translator for JusticeInfo and a part-time news and feature writer for Swissinfo. She has previously worked for Radio France International in Paris (france), Hirondelle News Agency in Arusha (Tanzania), for IRIN in Nairobi (Kenya), the Committee to Protect Journalists in New York (USA) and BBC Media Action in London (UK).

Why the High Representative had to criminalize Srebrenica genocide denial

Isak Nilsson, The Loop.

On 23 July 2021, Valentin Inzko, High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), criminalised public denial, trivialising, or condoning of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, as well as glorification of the individuals sentenced for these mass atrocities. Inzko invoked the Bonn Powers after the parliamentary assembly of BiH failed to introduce such legislation. The country’s dark past and current political situation justify such a decision. Inflammatory rhetoric is poisoning attempts at reconciliation and building a peaceful future.

Mass atrocities during the Yugoslav Wars of the 1990s hit BiH severely. Heinous crimes such as the 1995 genocide in Srebrenica left deep wounds. Though the war ended in 1995 with the Dayton Agreement, stable peace still eludes the region.

The dark side of free speech

Meanwhile, underlying tensions remain, and hope for reconciliation is distant. Without the continued presence of the international community, violence could again erupt in BiH. The High Representative has a central role in keeping the country together by forcing the Federation of BiH and Republika Srpska to cooperate with the State.

Political leaders have recently used appalling language, denying atrocities committed during the war. Not only does such language stand in the way of reconciliation, it is also dangerous. Inzko stresses that the situation is now ‘getting out of hand‘. Certain political leaders and public authorities reject that Srebrenica was a genocide, and glorify convicted perpetrators.

Without the continued presence of the international community, violence could again erupt in Bosnia

This rhetoric has existed for a long time, but has accelerated in recent years. For example, in 2016, the Republika Srpska National Assembly awarded convicted war criminals with decorations. On 21 July, a report was published, funded by the government of Republika Srpska, which downplays the heinous crimes committed. It claims that the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) held a political bias against Bosnian Serbs. It also claims ‘the Commission is convinced that the crimes in Srebrenica cannot be considered genocide’. Moreover, Milorad Dodik, the Bosnian Serb member of the three-headed presidency denies the Srebrenica genocide.

In response to Inzko’s decision, Dodik says he is willing to initiate the secession of Republika Srbska from BiH ‘no matter what the consequences.’ It is not the first time he has threatened secession, and we must understand his critique of Inzko in broader context. Dodik has targeted the High Representative for many years because the institution hinders increased autonomy for Republika Srpska.

Justified interference with freedom of expression

Freedom of expression is a cornerstone of democratic society. It is important for personal autonomy that individuals’ freedom of expression is far-reaching and restricted only when absolutely necessary.

In theory, expressions that some people believe to be false, might be true, and vice versa. This insight was central to John Stuart Mill’s support for freedom of speech. Mill’s argument is epistemological, emphasising the shortcomings of human ability to deduce the truth. Apply Mill’s argument to the Bosnian case, and one can argue that we must allow denunciations of the ICTY and its judgments.

Yet, in the context of postwar BiH, there must be no room for denial and relativisation of heinous crimes such as the genocide in Srebrenica. Attacking the ICTY judgments serves no other aim than supporting the nationalistic disintegration agenda. This is important to emphasise, because genocide denial causes real harm – not just to the victims and their families, but also to national stability.

in postwar Bosnia, there must be no room for denial of heinous crimes such as the genocide in Srebrenica

Genocide denial undermines steps toward reconciliation. All efforts already undertaken to build bridges and trust between the ethnic lines are at risk when genocide denial and the memorialising of war criminals is on the rise. Along with endeavours to sentence the perpetrators, barring and removing them from holding public office, preventing the glorification and denial of these criminals and their crimes has been a missing piece in the work toward reconciliation. Some political leaders use inflammatory language to reopen war wounds and undermine ICTY judgments. Memories of the war are still very much alive.

Why new legislation is a necessary step

Inzko’s decision was driven partly by frustration with the acceleration in recent years of harmful language. He is ‘deeply convinced that it is also sowing the seeds for potential new conflicts‘. There is real danger in nationalistic agendas fuelling hate in BiH. It is therefore essential to criminalise these malicious statements to provide a safeguard against violence.

to provide a safeguard against violence, we must criminalise inflammatory language

Prohibiting denial, relativisation and glorification of atrocities committed during the war are essential to stop the situation in BiH escalating, and to encourage reconciliation. The new legislation might not be able to create a common understanding of the country’s past nor provide a common vision for the future. But it is a necessary step in the right direction.

Isak Nilsson is a PhD candidate at Department of Law of the Umeå University.

Serbian state refuses to recognize Srebrenica genocide even after passing of 25 years

Dr. Jelena Dureinovic, Fair Observer.

In January this year, the public attention was drawn to a Serbian souvenir shop selling shirts with the inscription “Noz, Zica” (“Knife, Wire”), the slogan celebrating the 1995 genocide in Srebrenica where the Bosnian Serb forces killed more than 8,000 Bosniak men and boys. The Belgrade-based shop specializes in streetwear honoring Serbian nationalism, irredentism and military history from World War II to the 1990s wars in former Yugoslavia.

The social media outrage quickly resulted in a ban on the controversial merchandise by Serbian state authorities for inciting national and religious hatred, forcing the shop to publicly apologize. It could seem that denial or celebration of the Srebrenica genocide was unacceptable beyond far-right circles in Serbia, where Ratko Mladic, a Bosnian Serb army general convicted of genocide by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague, is considered a hero. However, genocide denial has been the official policy of the Serbian state since the 1990s.

Memory Inversion

Six months before the scandal, Serbian media reported extensively on the 25th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre. However, the narrative focused not on the genocide and its victims but highlighted the date, July 11, as the anniversary of an alleged assassination attempt on Serbia’s president, Aleksandar Vucic. The incident happened five years earlier when Vucic attended the commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the genocide in Potocari, in Bosnia and Herzegovina. He was chased away from the memorial with bottles and stones thrown at him.

Since 2015, state officials and the media have engaged in memory inversion, repurposing the anniversary of the genocide for the victimization of the Serbian president. Through the shift of public attention away from the genocide and to the alleged assassination attempt, Aleksandar Vucic became the central victim to be remembered on July 11. The representatives of the ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) and its coalition partners have demanded an investigation and justice for Vucic, accusing the Bosnian authorities of stalling the case.

For those familiar with his political career, it is more surprising that Aleksandar Vucic went to the Srebrenica genocide commemoration in the first place rather than that his visit caused so much anger among the crowd. Only nine days after the fall of Srebrenica in 1995, Vucic, then an MP with the far-right Serbian Radical Party (SRS), supported the threat expressed by party president Vojislav Seselj to kill a hundred Muslims for each dead Serb. Speaking in parliament, Vucic called the threat proof of “the great freedom-loving tradition of the Serbian Radical Party.”

Although he argued that the statement was taken out of context and that he would not repeat many things he said back then today, it is clear that Vucic has not entirely moved away from the radical politics of the 1990s. Many other current state actors were involved in the war, either as members of the SRS or of former President Slobodan Milosevic’s Socialist Party of Serbia.

Official memory politics in today’s Serbia illuminate the broader issue of the continuities, both in society and the political arena, between the 1990s and the present, bearing similarities to the nationalist mobilization for the wars in Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Kosovo. The dominant war narratives center on the heroism of the Serbian armed forces and the innocence and suffering of the Serbs, leaving no space for the acknowledgment of war crimes committed by the Serb forces and the plight of non-Serb victims. Recognition of the Srebrenica genocide does not fit this master narrative.

Official Stance

No government since the fall of Milosevic in 2000 has recognized what happened in Srebrenica as a genocide. The official stance has always been genocide denial — not contesting that the killings actually took place but refusing to accept the ICTY ruling the events a genocide, as well as denying any responsibility on behalf of Serbia. Hence, genocide denial is not a new phenomenon, predating the coming to power of the Serbian Progressive Party in 2012 characterized by the decline of democracy and right-wing populism.

The novelty lies in the blunt openness about genocide denial that coincides with the claims that Serbia is extending the hand of reconciliation across the region. This narrative of commitment to reconciliation is the reason why Aleksandar Vucic went to Potocari in 2015 all the while negating the very fact of the Srebrenica genocide.

Genocide denial is not only a war narrative promoted from above — it resonates across Serbian society and beyond. In March, an anonymous source sent photos to the Vreme weekly showing unpacked stacks of books brought for the patients at a temporary COVID-19 hospital in Belgrade. Among the books was “Srebrenica: An Official Lie of an Era,” which promotes a theory that the recognition of the Srebrenica genocide was a result of a longtime Bosniak and international conspiracy.

The book emerged from the revisionist Srebrenica Historical Project, financed by Republika Srpska, whose publisher, Milorad Vucelic, was the director of the Serbian national television and war propagandist during the 1990s. Vucelic is also the president of FC Partizan, whose far-right supporters are ardent admirers of Ratko Mladic and even staged a demonstration in front of the prison in the Netherlands where the former general was being held in custody in 2019.

The only genocide that the Serbian state officials and the radical right recognize and commemorate is the one against Serbs in the Independent State of Croatia during World War II. It is often brought up in the context of the Srebrenica massacre as the most terrible crime, creating a hierarchy of victimhood where the tragedy of Srebrenica is insignificant in comparison to the Serbian suffering.

The binary narrative of glorious Serbian heroes and innocent victims forms the basis of official memory politics of the authoritarian regime of the Serbian Progressive Party and does not allow the acknowledgment of the members of the Serbian nation as genocide perpetrators. In such a political and mnemonic setting, the recognition of the Srebrenica genocide is impossible.

Dr. Jelena Dureinovic is a postdoctoral researcher and scientific coordinator of the Research Platform for the Study of Eastern Europe and Transformations at the University of Vienna. She holds a PhD in history from Justus Liebig University in Giessen, Germany, where she taught Eastern European history. Dureinovic is particularly interested in memory cultures and politics in post-conflict and post-socialist contexts as well as the politics of memory in contemporary authoritarianism and populism. Most of her work revolves around the role, actors and practices of memory in the post-Yugoslav space with wider implications for other regions.

French President’s campaign to reveal the country’s sins in Africa

Peter Isackson, Fair Observer.

One of the worst humanitarian disasters of the past 30 years took place in 1994 in Rwanda. Approximately 800,000 people died in a genocidal campaign led by the Hutu majority against the Tutsi minority. The rampage began after Hutu President Juvenal Habyarimana’s plane was shot down. The Hutus immediately blamed the Tutsis and initiated a “well-organized campaign of slaughter” that lasted several months. A new French report on the Rwandan genocide has revealed some uglier truths about the role played by Western powers — particularly France.

Since his election, French President Emmanuel Macron has demonstrated what some French patriots feel is a morbid curiosity about the history of France’s relations with the African continent. In the first three months of 2021, two reports by French historians tasked by Macron to tell the truth have been released. The first concerns France’s role in the Algerian War of Independence between 1954 and 1962, and the second, the Rwandan genocide.

Le Monde describes the 1,200-page Rwandan report as “solid, established by independent researchers and founded on newly opened archives.” Shortly after taking office in 2017, Macron asked historian Vincent Duclert to elucidate France’s role in the Rwandan genocide. Al Jazeera describes the report as criticizing “the French authorities under [Francois] Mitterrand for adopting a ‘binary view’ that set Habyarimana as a ‘Hutu ally’ against an ‘enemy’ of Tutsi forces backed by Uganda, and then offering military intervention only ‘belatedly’ when it was too late to halt the genocide.”

Contextual Note

In the aftermath of the genocide, analysts speculated about whom to blame, not only concerning the genocide itself but also the failure to prevent it from spinning out of control. As the leader of the nation whose role as “policeman of the world” became consolidated after the fall of the Soviet Union, US President Bill Clinton exhibited an apparent “indifference” to tribal slaughter in Africa. It included deliberate “efforts to constrain U.N. peacekeeping.” Canadian General Romeo Dallaire accused Clinton of establishing “a policy that he did not want to know,” even though since 1992, US intelligence had been aware of a serious Hutu plan to carry out genocide.

French President Francois Mitterand’s guilt, it now turns out, was far more patent and direct than Clinton’s. The historians who authored the French report call it “a defeat of thinking” on the part of an administration never held accountable for its “continual blindness of its support for a racist, corrupt and violent regime.” Astonishingly, the report reveals that “French intelligence knew it was Hutu extremists that shot President Habyarimana’s plane down, which was seen as the trigger for the genocide.” Le Monde attributes Mitterand’s blindness to his “personal relationship” with the slain Hutu president.

Historical Note

By sneaking through the gaping cracks in the traditional parties on the right and left to be elected president, Emmanuel Macron became the leader of a new party created for the purpose of providing him with a majority in the 2017 parliamentary election that followed his historic victory. As a political maverick, Macron felt himself liberated from at least some of the shackles of history.

He first dared to do what Fifth Republic presidents of the past had carefully avoided when, as a candidate, he attacked the very idea of colonization, which not only played an essential role in France’s past, but continued to produce its effects through the concept of Francafrique. In an interview in Algiers, the Algerian capital, early in the 2017 presidential campaign, Macron described colonization as a “genuinely barbaric” practice, adding that it “constitutes a part of our past that we have to confront by also apologising to those against whom we committed these acts.”

Politicians on the right predictably denounced what they qualified as Macron’s “hatred of our history, this perpetual repentance that is unworthy of a candidate for the presidency of the republic.” This is the usual complaint of the nationalist right in every Western nation. Recently, columnist Ben Weingarten complained that Nikole Hannah-Jones’ 1619 Project for The New York Times Magazine was motivated by “hatred for America.” Patriots in every country tend to believe that exposing any embarrassing historical truth is tantamount to hate and intolerance of their own noble traditions. Telling the truth is treasonous.

In January 2021, the historian Benjamin Stora presented the report Macron commissioned him to produce on France’s historical relationship with Algeria. Stora proposed the “creation of a joint ‘Memory and Truth’ commission.” The report also recommended “restitution, recognition of certain crimes, publication of lists of the disappeared, access to archives” and “creation of places of memory.” Suddenly, Macron realized that he had received more than he bargained for. As the website JusticeInfo.net reported, “The French presidency said there was ‘no question of showing repentance’ or of ‘presenting an apology’ for the occupation of Algeria or the bloody eight-year war that ended 132 years of French rule.”

These two examples demonstrate France’s curious relationship with history. They also tell us about how powerful nations elaborate and execute their foreign policy. France is not alone. Every nation’s policy starts from a sense of national interest. The ensuing analysis begins by assessing threats to it. These may be military, economic or even cultural. In the case of military threat, the nation in question will be branded either an enemy or, if diplomatic politeness prevails, an adversary. When the discord is purely economic, the other nation will most likely be called a competitor or a rival. When the threat is cultural — as when Lebanon and Israel square off against each other about who makes the most authentic hummus — foreign policy experts will simply shut up and enjoy the show.

On the other hand, three forms of cultural competition — linguistic, tribal and religious rivalries — have real implications for the exercise of power and may seriously influence the perception of whether what is at stake is enmity, rivalry or friendly competition. The danger in such cases lies in confusing cultural frictions with political ambitions.

The two French reports reveal that the very idea of “national interest” may not be as innocent as it sounds. It can also mean “extranational indifference,” or worse. Indifference turns out to be not just a harmless alternative to the aggressive pursuit of national interest. In some cases, it translates as a convenient pretext for the toleration or even encouragement of brutally inhuman practices. That is why Rwanda may be a stain on both Francois Mitterand’s and Bill Clinton’s legacies.

Another feature of modern policy may appear less extreme than the tolerance of genocide while being just as deadly. As Noam ChomskyMedea Benjamin and Nicolas J.S. Davies and others have repeatedly asserted, the imposition of drastic sanctions has become a major weapon in the US foreign policy arsenal. Sanctions essentially and often sadistically target civilian populations with little effect on the targeted leaders. Sanctions have become an automatic reflex mobilized not just against enemies or rivals, but also against the economically disobedient, nations that purchase goods from the wrong designated supplier.

In 2012, Saeed Kamali Dehghan, writing for The Guardian, noted that the Obama administration’s sanctions on Iran were “pushing ordinary Iranians to the edge of poverty, destroying the quality of their lives, isolating them from the outside world and most importantly, blocking their path to democracy.” Nine years later, those sanctions were made more extreme under Donald Trump and continue unabated under President Joe Biden. All the consequences Dehghan listed have continued, with no effect on the hard-line Iranian regime’s hold on power. Can anyone pretend that such policies are consistent with a commitment to human rights? Do they reveal the existence of even an ounce of empathy for human beings other than one’s own voters?

The French at least have solicited truthful historical research about their past. But politicians like Macron, who have encouraged the research, inevitably turn out to be too embarrassed by the truth to seek any form of reparation. After commissioning it, they prefer to deny the need for it.

Peter Isackson is Fair Observer’s Chief Strategy Officer. For more than 30 years, Peter has dedicated himself to innovative publishing, coaching, consulting and learning management.