The Horrors of Genocide

The thought of genocide is shocking. On a human level, we cannot fathom the thought processes which prompt a group of individuals to carry out such widespread horror. In logistical terms, the sheer amount of violence and manpower needed to carry out such a deed is inconceivable. Yet, within our lifetimes, we have all lived to witness at least one genocide.
The term Genocide was coined by Raphael Lemkin and it refers to the “coordinated plan of different actions aiming at the destruction of essential foundations of the life of national groups, with the aim of annihilating the groups themselves.”
The United Nations marks the International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust on the 27th January. This annual commemoration marks the systematic killing of approximately six million Jews under the Nazi regime and its satellite states. This act of genocide is one of the most brutal. Unfortunately, it was not an isolated case.
The Khmer Rouge in Cambodia were responsible for the deaths of approximately 2,000,000 individuals in the late 70s. The author Philip Short estimates that approximately one third of the Cambodian population was wiped out by this Communist Regime.
In 1994, approximately 900,000 ethnic Tutsis were murdered by ethnic Hutus in the Republic of Rwanda. These murders occurred in the space of a hundred days.
Ethnic cleansing also played an important part in the Balkan Wars which occurred in the early 90s. During the Bosnian War, approximately 250,000 Bosnian Muslims were killed. The most horrible massacre of them all occurred in Srebrenica; an area which was allegedly declared as being a “safe area” by the United Nations Peace Keeping Forces.
The ongoing conflict in Darfur has already claimed approximately 400,000 victims. The United Nations estimates that an additional 2,850,000 individuals are displaced.
The last three conflicts all occurred under the aegis of the United Nations, thereby denting the credibility and effectiveness of this organisation.
The Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, himself responsible for the death of millions, cynically commented that “the death of one man is a tragedy, the death of one million is a statistic.” His statement is shocking. However, it reveals a widespread attitude which still prevails.
When a celebrity dies, many fall over themselves in paying homage and tribute to the deceased. The death of thousands may elicit some sympathy, however, it is so far removed from our imagination that we fail to grasp the horror of such events. Our reactions are either muted or indifferent.
Genocide occurs when life is devalued to the point that the individual is deliberately shorn of his person-hood. The person is no longer treated as an individual; he or she becomes a statistic, an ethnicity, a political entity or an abstract concept which can be discarded. This attitude leads to policies which refuse to acknowledge the supremacy of human dignity – and thus the safeguarding of human life.
The United States Declaration of Independence describes “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” as being “self-evident” rights conferred by a Supreme Order – an order which the Declaration identifies as being “the Creator.”
In a speech delivered to the Italian Senate in 2004, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI), referred to human dignity and human rights as being values which precede “all forms or expressions of state jurisdictions.” He emphasised that “these fundamental rights are not created by law makers, nor are they conferred by citizens.”
We are likely to see more atrocities if the preservation of human dignity does not become the pre-requisite of all foreign policy considerations.

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