Remembering genocide, forgetting to stop it, SC
April 24 2010

Remembering genocide, forgetting to stop it

As people around the world mark the 95th anniversary of the Armenian
genocide, world leaders repeat the admonition that we must remember
such atrocities in order to avoid repeating them. Yet the track record
of humanity since then suggests that remembering isn’t much better
than forgetting at stopping genocide.

It was not until 1944, as the world was becoming aware of the nature
and extent of Hitler’s "final solution" to the "Jewish problem", that
the term "genocide" was coined to refer to the deliberate elimination,
in whole or in part, of a group of people. But efforts to prevent the
act date back at least to the 1930s, when Raphael Lemkin, the man who
coined the term, first proposed an international tribunal for what he
called "the crime of barbarity." Lemkin’s move was prompted by what he
had learned about the Ottoman Empire’s systematic eradication of its
Christian population, including the Armenians, during the First World

Nothing would come of the idea of punishing genocide until after the
end of the Second World War, when the Nuremberg trials of Nazi German
leaders revealed the full scope of the genocide that has since come to
be known as the Holocaust. Jewish leaders especially, but not
exclusively, began to use the phrase "Never again!" to argue that
humanity should remember the German atrocities as a spur to action to
prevent such horrors in the future.

Events since then suggest that humanity does a better job of punishing
the perpetrators of genocide after it happens than stopping them from
committing it in the first place. Consider the record of the past
several decades: the massacre of Tutsis by Hutus in Rwanda, the
Cambodian "killing fields," the ongoing persecution of African
Christians in the Darfur region of the Sudan, the Srebrenica massacre
and "ethnic cleansing" in Bosnia, the "stolen generation" of
Aborigines in Australia, French actions against Berbers in Algeria.
While not all agree that all of these constitute genocide, one common
thread runs through them all: Concerned citizens of the world sounded
the alarm as the threats emerged, but the world looked the other way
while the killings proceeded unimpeded.

None of this should suggest that the world cease to observe
anniversaries of genocides, nor that leaders should speak out against
the practice. But it does raise the sad prospect that instead of
ensuring that genocide will never happen again, those of us who
remember it will instead be crying out "Never again!" again and again
and again.

Written by Sandy Smith

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