Dr James Smith is co-founder and Chief Executive of the Aegis Trust, a UK based non-governmental organisation established in 2000 for the prevention of genocide. He is the co-Founder of The Holocaust Centre, where the lessons of history are applied to the prevention of genocide and is visited by over 500 students each week. Dr Smith’s focus of recent years has been the mounting genocide in Darfur in western Sudan. The Aegis Trust campaign has gathered momentum since 2004 with world leaders echoing the need for a UN peace-keeping force. In this podcast for the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, Dr Smith introduces the term ‘genocide’ and the effects that it has on individuals, communities and nations today.
It is very important that people are aware that genocide and crimes against humanity didn’t stop with the Holocaust. It didn’t even begin with the Holocaust in Europe and that it’s a phenomenon that has occurred throughout the world, in every continent in every age. A government, a nation targets civilians that it should have the responsibility to protect and instead undertakes a campaign to eradicate them, to remove them from society. The Holocaust - it is the prime example of genocide.
Other genocides, such as the destruction of the Armenians during the First World War and the famine of the Ukrainians in 1930-34 under Stalin, and these events came in fact, to lead a Polish-Jewish lawyer called Raphael Lemkin to define the term ”genocide”. He finally came up with the term in 1943-44 but had been describing these atrocities committed by governments and was running a one man campaign to try and outlaw, to ban these kinds of crimes under international law. The sad irony was that this Polish-Jewish lawyer running this campaign, Raphael Lemkin, his own family were then murdered in Poland under the Nazis because they were Jewish. He survived - he was outside Poland, which was occupied by the Nazis at the time. And he then consolidated all his work, which ultimately led to the defining of genocide and the founding of the development of the United Nations Convention of Genocide, to prevent and punish genocide, which today in international law defines genocide and is the tool that the international community should use to prevent and also punish the crime of genocide, which has occurred again, not only before the Holocaust but since.
In the 1970s under Pol Pot’s Cambodia and only today, 30 years later, are we seeing justice being attempted under the special court in Cambodia where, again, perhaps a million and a half Cambodians were killed under the Khmer Rouge. The 1990s saw the events in the Balkans, which was again centuries old ethnic and religious hatred but resulted in certain groups being targeted by other groups for destruction. Most notably the Bosnian Muslims under the Serbs, the Bosnian Serbs, supported by the Serbian government in Belgrade, the Former Yugoslav capital. And in 1995, thousands of Bosnian Muslims were killed at Srebrenica.
And again, in the past 15 years that [which] took place in Rwanda in 1994 which, again, was a backdrop of decades of exclusion, discrimination, government policies that targeted particular groups and eventually [in] the context of a civil war that took place in 1990, the Tutsis of Rwanda were targeted for total destruction. And in the space of three months around a million people were slaughtered and left a terrible legacy; not only in Rwanda but in the whole of the region in Central Africa - the Great Lakes Region of Africa- where people are still suffering today from that legacy.
So over-viewing all of that, brief thumbnail sketch of genocide in the past 100 years or so because it is important that we remember, we mark, that is why Holocaust Memorial Day is an important day in the British calendar and internationally. Not only to remember the Holocaust, but to remind ourselves that mass murder of people, not because a war is happening, but because there is an attempt to destroy that group of people has happened over and over again. It will happen again in the future, and we need to remember these are human lives that have been snuffed out unnecessarily.
And also the final aspect of genocide and crimes against humanity is how to try and repair some of the damage after the events; to rebuild people’s lives, to bring dignity to people’s lives, to encourage rebuilding and development for people who have lost everything, their family structure, their hopes, their material wealth. People are just left without anything after such crimes have been brought upon them and their communities. And it is important that after the killing stops that we remember that the legacy of genocide and these kind of crimes continue for many, many years and if the survivors were abandoned in their hour of need, such as in Rwanda or Srebrenica, then the least we can do it give them a helping hand after the events.
The views expressed in this podcast are of the individual contributor and not necessarily those of HMDT.
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