March 8, 2010
New Cases Of Genocide Often Denied After Holocaust
Experiences from the Holocaust led to the international community coming together and agreeing on the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. Despite this, more cases of genocide occurred during the 20th century than during any other century. Research at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, shows that it is precisely these comparisons with the Holocaust that have often hindered intervention on the part of the international community.
"The Holocaust is sometimes used by the international community as an excuse for not intervening in new cases of genocide," says Malin Isaksson, researcher at the University of Gothenburg, who has studied the way in which the Holocaust has been used in interpreting other cases of genocide during the post-war era.The Holocaust is regarded as having given rise to the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide; the legal document that aims to prevent and punish future cases of genocide. But since the Holocaust holds the exceptional position of being one of the biggest crimes against humanity, comparing it with other incidents resembling genocide has at times been controversial.
"This has meant that the Holocaust has become an important rhetorical tool for international figures in achieving various political aims in relation to other cases of genocide," says Malin Isaksson, who is defending a thesis in peace and development research.
Malin Isaksson has also examined the impact of the Holocaust being used as a frame of reference on the introduction of the Genocide Convention, mainly considering the way in which the international community has acted.
"The Genocide Convention only comes into force if the case in question is defined as genocide, according to the criteria detailed under the convention. Comparisons are often made with the Holocaust, which means that few cases are recognized as genocide by the international community.
"This does not necessarily mean that the case doesn't meet the criteria. It is often a matter of the international community attempting to circumvent the obligation to intervene that is set out in the convention. This in turn is down to a lack of political will to intervene. So you could maintain that the Holocaust is sometimes held up not to prevent the reoccurrence of such events but with the very opposite aim," says Malin Isaksson.
Cases of genocide in Cambodia and Rwanda
As examples, Malin Isaksson has looked at how the international community acted during the cases of genocide in Cambodia and Rwanda.
"Comparisons were made with the Holocaust when the genocide in Cambodia was taking place. But at the beginning of the 1990s this comparison was no longer evident. By that time people had begun to regard the Holocaust as a unique event. This in turn meant that during the Rwandan genocide, almost no comparisons at all were made with the Holocaust. In official statements, the word 'genocide' was steered well clear of because the international community wanted to avoid intervention in what really they knew to be a case of genocide, in accordance with the convention," says Malin Isaksson.
The various interpretations of the Holocaust have also not only affected the way in which the international community perceived different cases of genocide, but in actual fact enable various rhetorical justifications for the actions of the international community.
The conclusion is that the international community uses the Holocaust to uphold the norm of non-intervention, which in practice means that there is no intervention in cases of genocide.
"Perhaps it's not so difficult to understand that states act based on their own interests and volition, but it is harder to understand why that doesn't extend to preventing cases of genocide," says Malin Isaksson.
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