Monday, December 10, 2007

What Can the Holocaust Memorial Museum Be Thinking?

By Gerald Caplan

[n.b. I am pleased to post this article by one of Canada's noted human rights voices, and a regular reader of the Genocide Studies Mailing List.]

The decision last March by the International Court of Justice, that Serbia had violated its obligations to prevent genocide, has direct implications for the Permanent Five members of the Security Council. At least twice, over Rwanda in 1994 and over Darfur for the past three years, China, Russia, France, Britain and the US have been guilty of exactly the same behavior as Serbia in 1995.

The World Court (as the ICJ is commonly known) was ruling on Serbia's role in the Bosnian city of Srebrenica in 1995. While finding that the massacre of 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys constituted a genocide, the court decided that since Serbia didn't control the perpetrators of the crime, it wasn't guilty of genocide. But Serbia could have foreseen the slaughter, and therefore could have prevented or stopped it. Accordingly, the Court ruled, Serbia had "violated the obligation to prevent genocide under the [1948 United Nations] Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide ..."

If Serbia in 1995, what about the United States the previous year? Led aggressively by Madeleine Albright, Bill Clinton's Ambassador to the United Nations, the Security Council ensured that the repeated pleas of General Roméo Dallaire to reinforce his puny UN mission to Rwanda went unheeded. On the contrary, two weeks into the genocide, with tens of thousands of Tutsi being massacred each day, Albright led the Security Council in voting to slash Dallaire's forces by 90%. For the remainder of the 100 days of the Rwandan genocide, no reinforcements reached Dallaire. He watched helplessly as some 800,000 Tutsi were slaughtered -- although most of the murders, it is nearly universally agreed, could have been prevented with about 5,000 good soldiers.

Did Slobodan Milosevic do worse than this? If Serbia violated the Genocide Convention by failing to prevent or stop the genocide at Srebrenica, what can one say about Madeleine Albright and her colleagues? Who will take them to court for their passive complicity in genocide?

Well, as it happens, Ms. Albright is too busy to stand trial. She's just been appointed by (among others) the prestigious Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC, as co-chair of a new Genocide Prevention Task Force. As she told a press conference, apparently with a straight face and no apparent shame in her heart: "We have a duty to find the answer [to genocide] before the vow of ‘never again' is once again betrayed."

Ms. Albright's co-chair is to be Clinton's former Secretary of Defense, William Cohen. The two worked together in Clinton's cabinet after she was promoted for her performance at the UN to Secretary of State -- the first American woman to hold the most influential post in the American government after the President.

Curiously enough, Albright and Cohen have something else in common. Only weeks ago, the two signed letters calling on Congress not to recognize the Armenian genocide. At an unusually hostile press conference, the two co-chairs explained that this was not an appropriate moment to alienate America's Turkish allies, who refuse to accept that Turkey was responsible for a genocide against the Armenian people in 1915. Nor were they prepared to describe the 1915 massacres as a genocide, which the overwhelming majority of genocide scholars have concluded it was.

Another reporter took them on: "It sounds as if you are both saying -- if our friends do it, it is not genocide. And if our enemies do it, it is genocide. Secretary Cohen, you say -- we can't say that about Turkey and the Armenian genocide because our boys and girls are in harm's way [in Iraq]. If you are going to define genocide by who does it, not by what it is, your task force is in trouble."

Indeed. This is a Task Force that should never have been created. It begins with its moral authority not just compromised, but totally undermined. It is possible there was a worst choice for co-chair than the woman who kept almost a million Tutsi from being saved, but it's not easy to see who it might be. Perhaps Henry Kissinger, with his record in Cambodia, Chile, and Indonesia. Perhaps George Bush and the neocons responsible for the invasion of Iraq and its aftermath. And there are thousands upon thousands of preeminent Americans who support a resolution to blame Turkey for the Armenian genocide. But the Holocaust Memorial Museum, perhaps the most influential of America's countless Holocaust institutions, chose Albright and Cohen.

Genocide prevention through the ages has been one of humankind's less successful enterprises, as the record of our own era shows. Nonetheless, the struggle to suppress and marginalize genocide in our world continues apace. You have to wonder why an institution like the Holocaust Memorial Museum would actively seek to mock that effort.

[Gerald Caplan is the author of Rwanda: The Preventable Genocide and has written and spoken widely on the failures of the "international community" to prevent genocide. He has frequently demanded that the leaders of the Permanent Five members of the Security Council be tried for their crimes of commission or omission in the genocides of our time.]

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