Jonathan Fryer

Posts Tagged ‘genocide’

Coming to Terms with Genocide

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 22nd December, 2015

imageIn 1994, when Rwanda was seized with a killing frenzy, I was working for BBC World Service at Bush House in London, writing analysis pieces about what was going on. It was clear that the then government in Kigali was orchestrating the massacre, with the Interhamwe militia and later ordinary Rwandans taking part in the brutal slaughter, mainly of men, women and children of the Tutsi minority. Some brave souls did hide or protect potential victims, at great risk to their own lives, but others joined in the blood-letting, some under duress. Over a period of 100 days perhaps as many as a million people were slaughtered, many thousands of them inside churches where they had sought sanctuary. For three months the international community essentially stood by, until the French declared rightly that something must be done, and a force of Rwandan exiles from Uganda moved in. It was largely because of the Rwandan genocide, in which Hutu fanatics set out to exterminate the Tutsi just as surely as Hitler tried to exterminate the Jews, that the Canadians, among others, worked out the theory of humanitarian intervention known as Responsibility to Protect (R2P).

Visiting the Kigali Genocide Memorial 21 years later, earlier this week, I tried to come to terms with what drives people to instigate or participate in a genocide. The methods used in Rwanda were often sickening, as people were slashed to pieces with machetes or babies had their heads smashed against walls. Some victims were buried alive. What drives people to abandon their humanity in such an extreme way? Greed, envy and other deadly sins, certainly, but also fear, especially when the dreadful killing machine has started moving. Almost every family in Rwanda was directly touched by the genocide and many come to the gardens of remembrance at he Kigali Genocide Memorial to feel reunited with their loved ones, an estimated 259,000 are buried in the grounds. It is a calm, beautiful place for reflection, but I challenge anyone to come out of the exhibition halls, with their graphic photographs and moving video testimony of the bereaved, to emerge with a dry eye.

 

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Burundi: R2P in Action?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 19th December, 2015

R2PThe African Union, moving with uncharacteristic speed, has decided to send 5,000 peace-keeping troops to Burundi, even though the government there has not asked for them. This is a legitimate move under an evolving concept in international law: the Responsibility to Protect (R2P), which basically argues that the international community has a moral duty to intervene in a country if there is a danger of genocide or other grave humanitarian crisis and the government on the spot either can’t or won’t solve the problem itself. Accordingly, R2P challenges a fundamental principle of the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia, namely that the ruler or government of a nation state has the sole authority for managing its affairs. Some countries, such as China, still cherish the notion of non-interference in the internal affairs of another state, not least because of foreign criticism of its policies in Tibet, but in a case like Burundi there is unlikely to be much protest at any peace-keeping action. This is because of the awful precedent of Rwanda, where I am now.

Burundi 1In 1994 one of the worst genocides in history took place as predominantly Tutsi Rwandans were slaughtered or maimed with machetes and other weapons by a militia force with the encouragement of some people in power and, shamefully, even some Christian priests. The international community stood by — some UN troops were even withdrawn, sealing the fate of thousands — until France decided that something must be done to halt the carnage. It was largely because of the Rwanda genocide that the idea of R2P was formulated. As it has evolved, the assumption is that military intervention should only take place when it is clear that diplomatic and other pressures or measures will not work. Moreover, rather that the United Nations itself being expected to act as a global policeman, regional organisations are encouraged to be the prime movers. So the African Union’s initiative will be widely welcomed. There is no doubt that the matter is urgent; scores of bodies have been found in the streets of the capital Bujumbura and hundreds of thousands of Burundians have fled into neighbouring  countries. Although at the moment the conflict is not overtly ethnic it could so easily become so, as it was in Rwanda, and then the true nightmare would begin.

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Kurdish Genocide Conference

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 14th March, 2013

Masoud BarzaniHalabja massacre 2This year sees the 10th anniversary of the Iraq War, which has naturally provoked a lot of media comment in the UK. But perhaps even more deserving of attention is the 25th anniversary of the Halabja massacre, when Saddam Hussein’s army wiped out around 5,000 Kurds in a chemical weapons attack. Most of the victims in the town were women and children. In fact that massacre was the climax of a horrendous campaign of persecution and slaughter against Iraq’s Kurds that had been going on for several years, largely ignored by the outside world, and with a probable total death-toll of around 182,000, most of whose remains have never been located. This week, international solidarity delegations are in Iraqi Kurdistan (KRG) to mark the anniversary and to continue the campaign to get recognition of what happened as genocide. The UK Parliament just the other day voted accordingly. But at a day-long conference at the Saad Abdulla Conference Centre in Erbil today the graphic horror and inhumanity of the so-called Anfal was brought home by eye-witnesses to the Halabja attack in March 1988 including the celebrated Iranian and Turkish photographers Ahmad Nateghi and Ramazan Oxturk whose images of dead children in their dead mothers’ arms became iconic. There was also interesting testimony at the conference from Senator Peter Galbraith from Vermont who had witnessed the destruction of Kurdish villages in northern Iraq in 1987 and drafted a Prevention of Genocide Act that was passed by the Senate but pooh-poohed by Presidents Reagan and later George Bush Snr, mainly because they hoped that Saddam Hussein would be the next Anwar Sadat, i.e. move Iraq out of the Soviet sphere of influence into the West’s, as Sadat had done with Egypt. The British filmmaker Gwynne Roberts showed and talked about his film “The Winds of Death” and there was a meaty speech of welcome from the President of the Kurdistan Region, Masoud Barzani, who declared that “We must not forget the past but it should not lead to hatred and revenge.”

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The Kurdish Genocide in Iraq

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 17th January, 2013

Halabja victimsSaddam Hussein2013 is a year of remarkable anniversaries so far as Kurds in Iraq are concerned: the 10th anniversary of the Iraq War (opposed by many, including me, in Britain, but viewed bythe Iraqi Kurds as a Liberation), the 25th anniversary of Saddam Hussein’s Anfal genocide operation and the 30th anniversary of the régime’s killings of men from the Barzani tribe. But those are only milestones — however gross and tragic — in a long journey of suffering that has been the Calvary of Iraq’s Kurds. No wonder they have an ancient saying that their only friends are the mountains. But even the mountains could not protect Kurdish villagers when Saddam’s airforce dropped a cocktail of chemical weapons on them in 1987-1988. First-hand testimony of the effects of those assaults (delivered at an International Conference on the Kurdish genocide, held at Church House in Westminster today) came from Dr Zryan Abdel Yones, who was a medic in the region at the time and had to deal with hundreds of victims dying in front of him, including preganant women whose bodies expelled their foetuses in a pool of blood. Saddam Hussein was indeed a monster — and a megalomaniac, as I had cause to remember when I spent two days in his palace in Baghdad last month. But the Iraqi Kurds do not yet have closure on their suffering; they want the international community to recognise that what was done to them amounted to genocide, as the Norwegian and Swedish parliaments have already done. We are talking about hundreds of thousands of casualties — many of whom simply disappeared without trace — in one of the most sustained and horrific crimes against humanity in modern times. It was really only after the Rwanda genocide of 1994 that the international community began to realise that there was a international moral reponsibility to protect which over-ruled the usual priunciple of non-interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign state. But it is not too late and a petition to 10 Downing Street has already attracted many thousands of signatures. To sign yourself click on the following link: http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/31014

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