40 Minutes On Human Rights With… Bishop Philip Mounstephen

On 4 May 2020, Lord Alton of Liverpool, Luke de Pulford and Ewelina Ochab hosted the first webinar from the series ‘40 Minutes on Human Rights with…’ The webinar series will be featuring guest speakers working on various aspects of human rights.

The first guest speaker, Bishop of Truro, Rt. Rev. Philip Mounstephen, who conducted the Independent Review for the Foreign Secretary of FCO support for Persecuted Christians.

The address from Bishop Philip:

‘Good morning everyone. I’m honoured to have been asked to launch the first of these webinars looking at contemporary issues in human rights – and today we’re starting with the issue of religious persecution, or the denial of Freedom of Religion or Belief if you prefer, recognising that the latter term is slightly wider in its scope.

I should start these few words with a confession and with a caveat.

My confession is that when Ewelina first asked me to do this my instinct was to decline. There was, I figured, quite enough going on in the Diocese of Truro to excuse me from this. But then, I thought, it’s precisely because of this current crisis that I need to do this. This coronavirus crisis is huge – but if we allow it to become the only story, and our defining narrative, we will in effect be turning a blind eye to some grave and continuing injustices in this world, including the systematic denial of FoRB. That is why this webinar series is so timely – and is why indeed after my initial reluctance to do it, I accepted the invitation. Persecution, we have to remember, takes no holiday.

My caveat is that I do not pretend to be an expert on this issue. I was drafted in at short notice to lead the FCO sponsored review into this issue last year, so inevitably I’ve been significantly exposed to the issue, and indeed try my best to keep abreast of it. But I don’t pretend to be an expert and there are almost certainly many here today who are much better informed than I am – and I hope we will hear from them during our time together.

But to come back to the Review I chaired, I suggested that there were two existential threats to human flourishing and harmonious communities in the world today – or rather in the world when I was writing it. One, I suggested, was climate change and the other was the systematic denial of FoRB. I suggested that we had begun to take one seriously, and it was high time we did the same with the other.

It’s worth asking how the current crisis has impacted them both. Clearly carbon emissions have been significantly reduced. Whether that situation will continue remains to be seen, though I hope it will. But what of the denial of FoRB? What does that look like in a time of coronavirus?

A central thesis of my report was that the systematic denial of FoRB should be of pressing concern to western governments not only because it’s an issue worthy of attention in its own right but because of the sinister nature of the forces driving it: forces have which significantly grown in power in recent years and which sometimes overlap.

Those four forces are these: crime on a semi-industrial scale where governments are weak, especially in Latin America; religious fundamentalism which includes but is certainly not limited to Islamic fundamentalism; authoritarian governments that are intolerant of dissent, and militant nationalism that is often intolerant and suspicious of minorities.

So what might be happening in each of these scenarios in this current crisis?

I suggest, sadly, that in probably every one of these contexts persecution is like to be on the rise. To take the situation of organised crime often driven by the drugs trade and gang warfare: those weak governments which struggled to contain it at the best of times are hardly likely to be in a better position to tackle it now when so much of their energy is taken up with containing this current health crisis.

In a situation where religious fundamentalism drives the denial of FoRB again, I suspect, the outlook is unlikely to be better. Here too governments will be distracted; the attention of news media will be directed elsewhere, so the current crisis could act as a cloak for increased persecution. Certainly anecdotal reports from Nigeria in recent days have been far from encouraging. Added to which it’s hard to imagine Boko Haram sitting quietly at home practicing social distancing.

And what of authoritarian governments that are intolerant of dissent? Again I think the picture is unlikely to be encouraging. There have been suggestions in the media in recent days that the position of people such as Vladimir Putin and President Xi are less secure than once they were because of their failures in managing the pandemic, but I suspect reports of their demise are likely to be exaggerated. It’s an irony of our time that one country which has been lauded for its effective handling of the crisis is Vietnam – but it’s been able to do so because of its own authoritarian and repressive command and control regime under which Christians certainly have certain suffered repression and a denial of their FoRB.

In general we should expect to see authoritarian governments using the cloak of the pandemic to accrue more power to themselves and to use that in increasingly repressive ways.

And all that I’ve said about such governments could also be said of the forces of militant nationalism that are inherently intolerant and suspicious of minorities and of ‘difference’ and are likely to be even more repressive of them in the current contexts. And it is of course an age-old human reflex to construct conspiracy theories and to blame and victimise those who are different when crises come. I see no reason why this current situation should be an exception to that rule.

And to those four factors I think we should also add the inevitable distraction of western governments from this issue due to their own efforts to contain and manage their own contexts faced with this pandemic. There will precious little extra bandwidth available for the protection of minorities elsewhere in the world.

So my general take is that the current crisis is unlikely to be good news for upholding the right of FoRB globally – though I’d be delighted to be told I’m wrong!

And I think we should be equally cautious about the world beyond this current crisis. What kind of world will be going into? Speaking here from Cornwall the death toll has been relatively low – but I think the economic hit we are likely to take will be very significant – and I don’t think we should underestimate generally how great the economic impact will be: I’m suspicious of the language of bounce-back given the damage we’ll have sustained.

So in a post-Covid 19 world a huge amount of western governments’ energy and attention will go into domestic economic recovery, with, again, little bandwidth for other issues. Globally countries where persecution is already an issue will face sharp economic pressures, and those pressures always tend to exacerbate rather than relieve persecution.  

So I’m not, sadly, sanguine for the future. If there is one point of light it lies in the observation that in this season we’ve never been more isolated – but have never been better connected. My hope is that that connectivity will endure, that the voices and stories of the persecuted will be better heard and that the clandestine cloak upon which persecution so often relies will increasingly be denied to it. That at least is my hope, and indeed that is my prayer. Thank you very much.’

UN Special Rapporteur Yanghee Lee Warns About Ongoing Atrocities In Rakhine And Chin States

On 29 April 2020, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, called for an investigation into allegations of ongoing atrocities in Myanmar’s Rakhine and Chin States.

As the UN Special Rapporteur emphasised, ‘While the world is occupied with the COVID-19 pandemic, the Myanmar military continues to escalate its assault in Rakhine State, targeting the civilian population.’ The UN Special Rapporteur added that ‘The Tatmadaw is systematically violating the most fundamental principles of international humanitarian law and human rights. Its conduct against the civilian population of Rakhine and Chin States may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity. All parties to the conflict, including the Arakan Army, must also protect civilians.’

The UN Special Rapporteur stressed the urgent need to investigate the alleged atrocities and to bring all responsible to account.

The UN Special Rapporteur further raised the issue of tight restrictions on humanitarian access since January 2019 to many parts of Myanmar, humanitarian workers being targeted in the conflict, journalists going into hiding in fear of arrest having reported on the conflict, and the mobile internet shutdown since June 2019.

Lastly, the UN Special Rapporteur called upon Myanmar and its security forces to abide by the International Court of Justice’s provisional measures.

See more on the provisional measures here.

See full statement from the UN Special Rapporteur here.

Germany Proceeds With Its First Genocide Trial Of A Daesh Fighter

In October 2019, our co-founder, Ewelina Ochab, reported that Germany was to conduct its first genocide trial of a Daesh fighter, Taha A.-J.

The man was extradited to Germany in October, where he has since been held in pre-trial custody before his trial begun in late April 2020.

According to the press statement, the man is accused of having joined Daesh, a terror organisation, before March 2013. The allegations state that in the summer of 2015, Taha A.-J. and Jennifer W. “purchased” and enslaved a five-year-old Yazidi girl and her mother. The couple kept the woman and girls enslaved in Fallujah, Iraq, and subjected them to forced conversion and physical abuse including battery and starvation. Allegedly, Taha A.-J. chained the girl outside and left her there to die of thirst. 

The atrocities that Taha A.-J. and Jennifer W. are accused of are a part of a larger campaign of atrocities perpetrated by Daesh against Yazidis and other religious minorities in Iraq. The atrocities carried out by Daesh are recognised by international institutions, several parliaments and a few governments as genocide carried out by way of mass murder, torture, abuse, slavery, rape and sexual abuse, forced displacement and much more. 

Ewelina Ochab comments:

As there is still no international tribunal that would have the jurisdiction to prosecute Daesh fighters for the atrocities perpetrated in Iraq or Syria, and with Iraqi courts unable to ensure justice, the pro-active approach taken by German courts must be commended. Other states should extend a helping hand and exercise the universal jurisdiction to prosecute some of the worst atrocities that we have witnessed in the recent times. Indeed, over the years, several states have exercised universal jurisdiction to ensure that victims see some justice being done during their lifetimes. There is no reason not to do so in the case of Daesh atrocities. Alternatively, states must work together to establish an international ad-hoc tribunal to prosecute the perpetrators. The victims and survivors of Daesh atrocities deserve to see justice being done. The world needs to see the end of the impunity for atrocities that has diminished our faith in the international systems.

For updates on the trial, see the joint statement from Amal Clooney, Natalie von Wistinghausen and Yazda.

UN Expert Warns Against Religious Hatred And Intolerance Amid Covid19 Outbreak

On 22 April 2020, Ahmed Shaheed, the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, issued a statement concerned about the increased religious hatred and intolerance amid Covid19 outbreak.

The UN Special Rapporteur emphasised that:

“The pandemic has caused a flare-up in existing religious intolerance in many countries. I am alarmed to see the upsurge in incitement to hatred, scapegoating religious or belief communities, including Christians, Jews, and Muslims for the spread of virus.”

He further stressed that certain groups are particularly vulnerable during the Covid19 pandemic:

“Migrants, refugees and asylum seekers from different minority groups have also been similarly stigmatised. Those targeted also have faced verbal abuse, death threats, physical attacks and experienced discrimination accessing public services, including denial of vital health services.”

The UN Special Rapporteur called upon everyone to play their part in addressing this dire situation, including:

“I urge civil society and faith-based organisations to widely communicate and assist those in vulnerable situations, regardless of their belief or ethnic background.” 

“States must also be non-discriminatory in assisting those in need and ensure that everyone has fair access to all public and health services.”

“States, all religious leaders and faith actors should step up in promoting social inclusion and solidarity as well as combating incitement to hatred through engagement and education.”

“I appeal to States, faith leaders, civil society, media and general public to reject hate and exclusion and provide support and solidarity to those who could be victimised at this difficult time.”

The full statement can be found here.

IAGS Adopts A Resolution Recognising Declaring the Rohingya Persecution A Crime of Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity

On 21 April 2020, the International Association of Genocide Scholars (IAGS) adopted a resolution declaring the Rohingya persecution a crime of genocide and crimes against humanity.

Ewelina Ochab, our co-fouder and member of IAGS, said: ‘This is an important step to recognise the suffering of the targeted communities and the first step towards justice for the victims and survivors. Atrocities of this magnitude have to be recognised for what they are. Such a determination of the atrocities against the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar as genocide or crimes against humanity should be done by states and international actors too. Actions must follow as well: to stop the atrocities, investigate and prosecute the perpetrators, assist the victims and survivors, and ensure that such atrocities will never again happen.’

The text of the resolution is as follows:

Resolution to Declare the Rohingya Persecution a Crime of Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity

• WHEREAS, Myanmar has a long history of discrimination against the Rohingya People based on their identity and religious beliefs, which has resulted in the government denying them citizenship in the 1982 Citizenship Act, as well as birth certificates and full political participation, and thus restricting their rights to freedom of movement; of access to food, health care, livelihood, and education; among others;

• WHEREAS, discriminatory policies against this specific group have also included population control such as household registration, marriage permissions, and birth restrictions; forced labour; arbitrary arrest; extortion and confiscation; and sexual and gender-based violence;

• WHEREAS, the abovementioned oppressive policies had the purpose of systematically “othering” the Rohingya People in the Myanmar nation with a clear exclusionist objective;

• WHEREAS, since 2012 attacks by Buddhist extremist groups on Rohingya villages in the Rakhine State have been reported, reaching a peak in October 2016, when thousands of Rohingya fled to Bangladesh due to violence and military operations;

• WHEREAS, following attacks in August 2017 by a small extremist group—known as ARSA or Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army—claiming to defend the rights of the Rohingya community, on several police check post in the North Rakhina State, the Tatmadaw, Myanmar’s military force, launched disproportionate widespread attacks— called by authorities “clearance operations” —on the civilian Rohingya population, causing large-scale death, displacement, and other atrocities;

• WHEREAS, since 25 August 2017 more than 800,000 Rohingya people have fled their homeland in Rakhine State to the southern part of Bangladesh, due to general violence and persecution by the State;

• WHEREAS, on September 2017 the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights stated that the persecution against Rohingya is a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing”;

• WHEREAS, the Permanent People’s Tribunal on “State Crimes Allegedly Committed in Myanmar against the Rohingya, Kachins and Other Groups,” held in 2017, found that the mass killing, rape, and other atrocities taking place in the Rakhine State constitute genocide and crimes against humanity;

• WHEREAS, according to the findings and recommendations of the 15-month Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar—established by UN Human Rights Council Resolution 34/22—presented in a September 2018 report that the Tatmadaw “[d]uring their operations […] has systematically targeted civilians, including women and children, committed sexual violence, voiced and promoted exclusionary and discriminatory rhetoric against minorities, and established a climate of impunity for its soldiers”;

• WHEREAS, the abovementioned report concluded that “the nature, scale and organization of the operations suggests a level of preplanning and design on the part of the Tatmadaw leadership” consistent with the vision of hierarchical authorities;

• WHEREAS, testimonies of survivors in the refugee camps established in Bangladesh provide accounts of long-term and recent persecution, discrimination, and widespread violence and atrocities committed by the State of Myanmar against the Rohingya People as both an ethnic and a religious minority, amongst which sexual violence (in the forms of rape, gang rape, and forced nudity), mass killings, enforced disappearances, destruction of property, and persecution have been found;

• WHEREAS, the abovementioned crimes analyzed in the overall historical context of violence against the Rohingya population, the public use of hate speech and derogatory language followed by physical violence by governmental authorities, the plans and policies to change the demographic composition of the Rakhine State, and the extreme levels of brutality and general violence applied during the planned and organized “clearance operations” indicate the level of intent required to constitute the crime of genocide;

• WHEREAS, evidence shows the crimes against the Rohingya committed during “clearance operations” were widespread and systematic and carried out by the Tatmadaw, other security forces and groups of civilians, as according to the findings of the aforementioned Fact-Finding Mission;

• WHEREAS, in September 2018 the International Criminal Court Pre-Trial Chamber I ruled that the Court has jurisdiction over the alleged crime against humanity of deportation of the Rohingya population to Bangladesh as requested by Prosecutor;

• Therefore the International Association of Genocide Scholars: recognizes the crimes committed against the Rohingya in 2017 in Myanmar as Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity; urges the international community to provide humanitarian assistance to the refugees located in Bangladesh, including but not limited to proper shelter, clean water, food, medicine and vaccines, and psychological support; calls upon the International Criminal Court to provide effective and rapid justice to the victims, clarification of the facts, and punishment of the perpetrators; calls upon the International Court of Justice to issue a finding in favor of Gambia’s allegations against Myanmar of violations of the UN Genocide Convention; and calls upon the international community to impose/extend the arms embargo and to freeze the assets of those who are responsible

Four Years Later, The UK Government Still Shies Away From Calling It Genocide

As our co-founder, Luke de Pulford, reminds us today:

‘It’s four years to the day since we won a unanimous vote in the @HouseofCommons to recognise mass atrocities against Yazidis Christians and other minorities. Four years later @GOVUK still refuses to give what happened to these people its proper name: genocide.’

On 20 April 2016, the UK House of Commons debated on an Early Day Motion (EDM) moved by Mrs Fiona Bruce MP that was to recognise the atrocities of Daesh as genocide and call for action. The EDM states:

‘That this House believes that Christians, Yazidis, and other ethnic and religious minorities in Iraq and Syria are suffering genocide at the hands of Daesh; and calls on the Government to make an immediate referral to the UN Security Council with a view to conferring jurisdiction upon the International Criminal Court so that perpetrators can be brought to justice.’

The EDM passed unanimously (278-0). Four years later, the UK Government still shies away from calling the atrocities for what they are. Genocide. The UN Security Council referral to the International Criminal Court has not been undertaken either.

For more on the debate, see: Hansard of 20 April 2016.

The Coalition for Genocide Response Joins the NGO Statement on Humanitarian and Security Implications of the COVID-19 crisis in northern Iraq

The Coalition for Genocide Response has joined the NGO statement on ‘Humanitarian and Security Implications of the COVID-19 crisis in northern Iraq.’

The NGO statement:

‘An impending humanitarian and security disaster looms large in Iraq. The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbates an ongoing crisis that affects displaced communities across the country, including the survivors of atrocities perpetrated by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). These already traumatized communities now face restrictions of movement that will exacerbate underlying psychological distress that may lead to increasedsuicide rates. Furthermore, Iraq’s recent economic collapse aggravates social instability and causes a security vacuum, which in turn heightens the risk of further ISIS attacks and sows the seeds for future atrocities. The Government of Iraq and the United Nations (UN), including the World Health Organization (WHO), can take simple and effective action now by following the steps outlined below: The public health system in Sinjar and the wider Nineveh Governorate was decimated by ISIS during its brutal occupation and genocidal campaign in Iraq, beginning in 2014. According to the UN, 1.8 million people remain displaced, living in internally displaced persons (IDP) camps across Iraq due to persistent insecurity and a lack of reconstruction work. Globally promoted hand-washing practices are simply insufficient to arrest the spread of a respiratory disease like COVID-19 in such conditions, while social distancing will prove impossible in high- density camps where scores of families live in direct proximity to each other. At present, it is impossible to apprehend the extent of the spread of the virus because no testing for the disease is taking place in the camps, while restrictions of movement impede the work of humanitarian actors who provide basic essentials such as food, water, and medicine. Many Yazidis (Ezidis/Yezidis) want to return to Sinjar, but security, reconstruction, and basic services are still lacking to allow a dignified return. There are currently only two hospitals and just one ventilator to assist the current population of around 160,000 people in the region. The WHO must undertake an urgent assessment mission to Sinjar, Tel Afar and the Nineveh Plain, and provide testing capacities for all IDP camps.Another alarming corollary of the COVID-19 pandemic in Iraq is the psychological impact on at-risk communities, including Yazidis, Turkmen, and Christians, such as Assyrians. Prior to the outbreak, Médecins Sans Frontières reported on a debilitating mental health crisis among Yazidis in Iraq, including a rising number of suicides. The entire Yazidi population is experiencing mental trauma caused by the acts of genocide, and some are displaying severe psychological difficulties. Among those at heightened risk are the women and girls who experienced systemic sexual violence, and the boys who were forcibly recruited by ISIS. No effective trauma treatment is currently being provided to children that were held in captivity or were born out of the war. COVID-19 has also resulted in the suspension of the limited psychosocial therapy support that was being provided. Mental health professionals have identified hundreds of civilians at high risk for suicide, and two suicides by self- immolation have already been reported. Many more attempted suicides continue to go unreported due to stigma. The WHO must immediately address this acute mental health crisis and implement enhanced suicide prevention awarenesscampaigns.COVID-19 and the precipitous drop in oil prices have caused the Iraqi economy to collapse, leaving a dangerous security vacuum for ISIS to exploit. Indeed, the resultant political turmoil and social strife recall the very conditions that earlier incarnations of ISIS and its supporters capitalized on during its initial surge almost a decade ago. According to the International Crisis Group, ISIS in its weekly newsletter Al-Nabacalled on its fighters to attack and weaken its enemies while they are distracted by the pandemic. COVID-19 has also hastened the departure of some coalition forces from Iraq, weakening counter-terrorism operations, while some ISIS detainees have recently escaped prison in Syria. There is an urgent need for reform in the civilian security sector, in order to integrate regional militias into a unified Federal Police that upholds the rule of law and protects all citizens, regardless of religion or clan affiliation. TocounteractthecontinuedISISthreat,theGovernmentofIraqmustworkwith the United Nations and expedite efforts to bring ISIS fighters to justice for the genocide, crimes against humanityandwarcrimesandtoincorporatetheaforementionedinternationalcrimesintoitspenalcode.

COVID-19 is a pandemic the likes of which we have not seen before. Survivors of genocide and other mass atrocity crimes are now waiting for this silent death to pass through the camps and their homes, unable to fight back. There is a significant attendant threat to global security if ISIS uses this opportunity to regroup and return, but it does not have to be this way. Iraqi authorities and the United Nations must act now by means of:

  • An urgent WHO assessment mission to Sinjar, Tel Afar and the Nineveh Plain in addition to the provision of testing for COVID-19 in all IDP camps.
  • AWHOmentalhealthcrisisplan,includingsuicidepreventionawarenesscampaigns.
  • Expediting efforts to bring ISIS fighters to justice for the crime of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes and to incorporate the aforementioned international crimes into its penalcode.
  • The UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for HumanRightsshould,wherepresent,monitorandreportontheimpactofmeasurestakenbythe authority to stem COVID-19 on human rights.’


1. Aegis Trust (Rwanda/United Kingdom)

2. Air Bridge Iraq – Luftbrücke Irak (Germany)

3. Asia-Pacific Centre for the Responsibility to Protect (Australia)

4. Assyrian Policy Institute (United States of America)

5. Center for Justice and Accountability (United States of America)

6. Central Council of Yazidi in Germany – Zentralrats der Êzîden in Deutschland (Germany)

7. Free Yezidi Foundation (The Netherlands)

8. Genocide Alert (Germany)

9. International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect (United States of America)

10. International Council for Diplomacy and Dialogue (France)

11. Iraqi Christian Relief Council (United States of America)

12. Jiyan Foundation for Human Rights (Iraq)

13. Minority Rights Group International (United Kingdom)

14. Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies (Canada)

15. Nadia’s Initiative (United States of America)

16. Nobody’s Listening (United Kingdom)

17. Religious Freedom Institute (United States of America)

18. Sanabel Al-Mostaqbal Organization for Civil Society Development (Iraq)

19. Society for Threatened Peoples – Gesellschaft für bedrohte Völker-International (Germany)

20. Trauma Treatment International (United Kingdom)

21. Turkmen Rescue Foundation (Iraq)

22. Voice of Ezidis (France)

23. Women’s Refugee Commission (United States of America)

24. World Federalist Movement – Institute for Global Policy (United States of America)

25. Yazda (United States of America)

26. Shlomo Organization for Documentation (Iraq)

27. Post- Conflict Research Center (Bosnia and Herzegovina)

28. Coalition for Genocide Response ( United Kingdom)

29. International Coalition of Sites of Conscience (United States of America)

30. Never Again International – Canada

More at: https://www.yazda.org/post/joint-ngo-statement-humanitarian-and-security-implications-of-the-covid-19-crisis-in-northern-iraq

The Coalition for Genocide Response Joins the Freedom United ‘Free Uyghurs’ Campaign

The Coalition for Genocide Response has joined the Freedom United ‘Free Uyghurs’ Campaign. The ‘Free Uyghurs’ Campaign raises the issue of forced labour of Uyghurs and other Turkic and Muslim-majority ethnic groups.

As Freedom United reports:

“Since 2017, the Chinese government has detained over one million Uyghurs and other people from Turkic and Muslim-majority groups in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, Northwest China.

In factories and detention camps, Uyghurs, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, Hui and others work under constant surveillance and cannot leave. They are forced to undergo “ideological training” to abandon their religion and culture. There have also been reports of torture. 

The Chinese government’s use of forced labor as part of an effort to forcibly assimilate an ethnic group and eliminate a culture and religion sets it apart from more common forms of forced labor. 

This system of forced labor has also become a significant part of the Chinese economy, and countless Western companies are also profiting from it. 

The Chinese government has defended the camps as voluntary “vocational training centers” that serve to provide professional opportunities and eliminate extremism. But evidence is mounting that reveals this system of modern slavery for what it is.”

Join us in calling on the Chinese government to end the persecution and exploitation of people belonging to the Uyghur and other marginalized ethnic groups through the use of forced labor.

More at: https://www.freedomunited.org/advocate/free-uyghurs/

The World Is Marking The International Day Of Commemoration And Dignity Of The Victims Of Genocide

December 9 marks the International Day of Commemoration and Dignity of the Victims of the Crime of Genocide and of the Prevention of this Crime. It is a day established by the U.N. General Assembly to raise awareness of genocide and the role the U.N. Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (the Genocide Convention) plays in addressing it. December 9 was an obvious choice, since, in 1948, on the same day, the U.N. General Assembly adopted the Genocide Convention. The Genocide Convention was the first document that defined genocide and imposed obligations on states to prevent genocide and punish the perpetrators. 

Read the remarks of our co-founder, Ewelina Ochab, here: The World Is Marking The International Day Of Commemoration And Dignity Of The Victims Of Genocide

Rwandan Lessons for UN Genocide Memorial Day 2019

By Katharine Thane; Kigali, Rwanda. (Senior Researcher & Advisor to the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief)

“Please be an ambassador to your country and tell them what you have heard so that what happened here can never happen anywhere else.” This was the message of Frederique, a perpetrator of the 1994 Rwandan genocide. He spoke to us from Mayange, Bugasera region; the best example of a reconciliation ‘Millenium village’ in Rwanda. Here, 54 families made up of perpetrators, victims and Tutsi returnees live side-by-side.

A church is Nyamata Church Genocide Memorial. Circa 4,000 thought they would be safe in it but the doors were locked, grenades thrown in, then the militia group with guns entered. Only 7 survived. Photo credit: Katharine Thane.

It took 11 years (in 2005) for the village to become feasible after the genocide. It was nearly impossible at the beginning for victims and perpetrators to trust each other. How would victims trust those who knowingly killed their relatives, especially with many of the perpetrators languishing in jail until today, unwilling to acknowledge their crimes? Over time, reconciliation did start to happen, however. Key to this in Mayange was a pastor and priest, one of which had been a victim himself. Both together taught about the need for forgiveness to heal and facilitated truth-telling between village members. A crucial part of this truth was for victims to directly learn where their relatives’ bodies had been placed by the perpetrators so as to be able to move on from hatred.

Unspeakable violence occurred during the genocide to all Tutsis and moderate Hutus who were attacked. Much of the justification for the arbitrary attack was based on arbitrary facial feature differences that colonial leaders exacerbated in the 1930s. The national memorial at Nyamata where you can descend into the mass grave of some 45,000 people their remains and some of their clothing is a particularly poignant warning of how exacerbation of differences through propaganda, hate speech and violence at the hands of neighbours can render unimaginable trauma for generations to come.

The younger generations are less able to feel the intensity of the genocide than their parents but the impact is still with them. Reconciliation is far from fully complete even with the eradication of individuals’ ethnic tribe from their ID cards. The fragility of the underlying situation is somewhat masked by the amazing amount of aid money that has been pumped into Rwanda since the genocide. How much Rwandans are able to criticize the current government and seek change to the remaining tensions is also unclear and perhaps a larger barrier than known to many in the international community to the full healing that many in the country seek.

Mayange village is a small but critical example of what can be achieved after the most inhumane of times. From my work, I have major questions about what is similarly being done in other countries such as Iraq, Syria, Nigeria and Myanmar where the need for an immediate focus on reconciliation is critical now even while the crisis continues to unfold. Reconciliation is the hardest of all violence stages and often left to one side when the need to ‘fire-fight’ is also great.

I implore those working on the targeting of minority groups in those countries above as well as the UN Office for the Prevention of Genocide which is overseeing the implementation of the UN Secretary General’s Hate Speech Action Plan this Genocide Memorial Day to support concrete long-term systematic efforts for reconciliation in the places where genocide is, has and may be about to take place.