Maung Zarni is a fellow with the (Genocide) Documentation Center of Cambodia and co-founder of the Forces of Renewal in Southeast Asia.
We are witnessing horrific violence being perpetrated against civilians including war refugees, women, children and elderly people in Myanmar, Ukraine, Israel and Israel-occupied Gaza by primarily state actors. The founding members of the United Nations either look on, or, worse still, serve as enablers behind perpetrating states.
What we don’t see on the social media platforms and conventional TV monitors is the silent demolition of international law – the Genocide Convention no less – the Security Council and the United Nations Charter.
As if spitting on the post-Holocaust moral clarion call – Never Again! – Israel, of all state signatories to the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, has declared in effect its intention to commit an act of genocide – cutting off all “water, electricity, and food supplies” to the 2.2 million people of Gaza.
The Genocide Convention – as the binding inter-state treaty is generally referred to in activist and scholarly quarters – was adopted on 9 December 1948, less than two years after the closure of Auschwitz by the Soviet Red Army on 27 January 1945.
From pro-Israeli American protestors on the streets of New York to state officials and politicians in high places the demands that the Jewish State take “revenge” and “retaliate” are made, wittingly or not, in the language easily recognizable as genocidal. To fight what it labels as “human animals”, Israel is currently making good on its promise of “a total siege. US Republican presidential hopeful and former US Permanent Representative to the United Nations Niki Haley has tweeted chillingly, “Netanyahu … Finish them!”
In his CNN interview with Fareed Zakara, the New York Times columnist and former editor Thomas Freeman stressed that “they (Israeli leaders) are going to do harsh things” (to the residents of Gaza), as if having been put “in a vast open prison” and blockaded from both land and sea for the last 17 years were not satisfactorily “harsh”, for him.
Were Raphael Lemkin alive today he would be so pained to witness what is being done to a marked population of Palestinians in the name of “defending” the officially Jewish State of Israel. As a genocide scholar and a campaigner against my own native country Myanmar’s full-blown genocide against the Rohingya minority, I once visited Lemkin’s home – an apartment complex – where he lived as a student reading law at the university in Lviv, then a Polish city lined with beautiful if run-down Romanic architectural monuments and residential homes.
Lemkin gifted the post-Holocaust world the word “genocide” which has captured popular imagination since. In his original conception – which more or less became the intellectual foundation of the Genocide Convention – genocide is any intentional destruction of populations or identity-based group marked for elimination, in whole or in part.
One of the 5 acts spelled out in the Convention reads “(D)eliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part “. Israel’s declaration of a total siege of an entire population of Gaza, with the clearly stated intent to deprive the latter of access to life’s essentials – food, water, and electricity (for hospitals, clinics, water pumps, cooking, and heating) and the use of white phosphorus and indiscriminate bombing of civilian areas, targeting medics etc. is definitely a tantamount to genocidal act
What is even more shocking – and more inhuman – is this: the entire cluster of Washington-led Western world – and India – have officially backed Israel, despite its declared genocidal intent in Gaza. Gaza’s population of 2.2 million includes 1 million children, which is roughly the equal number of Nazi victims at Auschwitz, mostly Jews, but also Roma and Sinti, Poles and the Soviet prisoners of war.
As deplorable as the horrific attacks on Israeli civilians by Hamas on 7 October were, for Israel, a signatory of the Genocide Convention, to announce to the entire world that it intends to mete out genocidal “collective punishment” against the Palestinians in Gaza is not simply in breach of this international law, but also unconscionable at the most elemental human level.
On 11 October, a British doctor working in Gaza told BBC Radio Four that Israel bombed a hospital the night before and the majority of those killed were children. Additionally, he said the hospitals and clinics there will run out of medical supplies in the next 24 hours, owing to the genocidal siege which Israel has imposed this week.
Communities of conscience worldwide must call out the unbearable hypocrisy of the governments of Europe, USA, Canada and Australia for their collective disregard for international law Unsurprisingly for another white settler colonial country,
Australia does not even recognize genocide as a crime under its domestic or national law. Its own constitution does not even acknowledge the existence of the Aboriginal peoples.
Despite its recognition of genocide at home or abroad by American citizens as a death-penalty worthy crime, under US domestic law the United States unequivocally throws it political and military weight behind Israel. On Wednesday US President Joe Biden sent his Secretary of State Anthony Blinken to Israel as a show of support for Israel.
That India’s Hindutva government of Prime Minister Modi has also thrown its weight behind Netanyahu’s genocidal declaration against the Palestinians comes as no surprise. The state in India is hellbent on relegating non-Hindu Indians – for instance, 300-hundred million Muslims – to second- and third-class citizens in its attempt to remake India as the country of Hindus. This includes a proposal to rename the country, Barat, like the Far Right Israeli government which officially made the state in Israel exclusively Jewish. Lemkin would tell you genocide is a process, not an event or a single incident of violence or mass killings. It starts with stripping populations marked for exclusion, persecution and eventual destruction of legal protection, basic rights including due process, creating a hierarchy of citizenships.
But India is not the only non-Western country that is increasingly in breach of international law and its own secular Constitutional norms at home.
Russia’s imperialist invasion of Ukraine is said to have elements of genocide. Last month, in his address to the United Nations General Assembly Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, … “used the word “genocide” to refer to the abduction of tens of thousands of Ukrainian children by Russian occupation authorities, who the Ukrainian president said were being brainwashed into hating their homeland. In his words: “(n)ever before has mass kidnapping and deportation become a part of the government policy. Not until now.”
Regarding Putin’s adoption of genocidal language in reference to Ukraine and Ukrainian people, the Atlantic Council’s Tara Kuzio observed, “Russian President Vladimir Putin has set the tone for Russia’s viciously anti-Ukrainian public dialogue and has frequently engaged in what could be classed as genocidal language. … In one particularly chilling recent outburst in September 2023, Putin denounced the “anti-human essence” of the modern Ukrainian state. Such dehumanization is widely recognized as an important indicator of genocidal intent.”
The International Criminal Court has already issued an arrest warrant for the Russian President Putin for the “unlawful deportation” en masse of Ukrainian children since the start of Moscow’s illegal and immoral invasion of Ukraine.
In Myanmar the military junta continues with its genocidal wars against national minorities amidst legal proceedings (The Gambia vs. Myanmar – better known as the Rohingya genocide case) at the International Court of Justice. Faced with country-wide armed resistance to its universally unpopular coup of 2021, the regime is violating all elements of international law – including war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.
Only a few days ago, close to mid-night, a Myanmar junta’s Air Force fighter jet dropped a massive bomb on ethnic Kachin war refugees, who were taking shelter immediately adjacent to the China-Myanmar borders in Northern Myanmar. Twenty-one children who were asleep in make-shift shelters were among the casualties.
In his briefing to the United Nations Human Rights Council on 26 September this year Volker Türk, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said, “(w)e are faced here with a system of ruthless repression designed to coerce and subjugate its people and to erode a society so that the predatory interests of the military are preserved”.
He identified three specific military tactics employed against civilians: airstrikes, mass killings, and the burning of villages and pointed out Myanmar’s “military’s blatant disregard for fundamental principles of humanity as well as the Security Council’s repeated demands for an immediate cessation of hostilities and unhindered humanitarian access”.
In all four aforementioned cases, state actors – Russian Federation (with UNSC veto power, Israel with total impunity and protection from the United States, India and Myanmar) — are wittingly disregarding international law and breaching the genocide convention.
It is no coincidence that that these violators of international criminal law and inter-state treaties flock together. Israel, Indiaand Russia are known to be among Myanmar’s key suppliers of arms while Myanmar has shipped artillery munitions to Russia to be used in Moscow’s war of aggression against Ukraine.
Enabled by their protectors and supporters, Russia, Israel, India and Myanmar are driving the final nail in the coffin of international law. Ironically, “Never again!” has been rendered hollow by the Jewish State itself while the Liberator of Auschwitz, Russia, is doing its share of evil deeds to destroy the Genocide Convention.
The slightly chopped version of this analysis appeared in the print version of The Jakarta Post, 14 October 2023, page 2.