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UN Whitaker Report on Genocide, 1985, paragraphs 78-84, pages 41-42 [ Table of Contents , Previous Section , Next Section ]


C. Proposals

1. Prevention

78. Punishment after the event does not meet the priority problem of preventing great loss of life. Those personalities who are psychologically prepared to commit genocide are not always likely to be deterred by retribution, at least in this world. Perhaps, the Convention’s most conspicuous weakness is that it insufficiently formulates preventive measures. Such international short—term and long—term action would need to relate to different stages in the evolution of a genocidal process — anticipation of its happening; early warning of its commencement; and action to be taken at the outset of or during a genocide itself to stop it.

79. Intelligent anticipation of potential cases could be based on a data bank of continuously updated information, which might enable remedial, deterrent or averting measures to be planned ahead. Reliable information is the essential oxygen for human rights: this could be facilitated by the development of a United Nations satellite communications network. Comparisons could be made with the lessons, both positive and negative, of previous cases. Experience international conciliators or mediators, from the United Nations and its agencies or other bodies such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, could serve to defuse tension.

80. H.G. Wells rightly stated that "Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe". Another highly important area of study is interdisciplinary research (to be co—ordinated perhaps by the United Nations University) into the psychological character and motivation of individuals and groups who commit genocide or racism, or the psychopathic dehumanizing of vulnerable minorities or scapegoats. In all human rights work, it is essential to go beyond condemnation of violations to analysing their causation.

81. The results of such research could help form one part of a wide educational programme throughout the world against such aberrations, starting at an early age in schools. Without a strong basis of international public support, even the most perfectly redrafted Convention will be of little value. Conventions and good Governments can give a lead, but the mobilization of public awareness and vigilance is essential to guard against any recurrence of genocide and other crimes against humanity and human rights. There has recently occurred an encouraging change from preoccupation with particular genocides to wider concern for effective measures to deal with the general phenomenon itself.

82. As a further safeguard, public awareness should be developed internationally to reinforce the individual’s responsibility, based on the knowledge that it is illegal to obey a superior order or law that violates human rights. Although some Governments may be reluctant to agree, such a concept has been an honoured tradition in many different parts of the world. Gandhi’s and Martin Luther King’s ideas on civil disobedience to unjust laws were developments of the earlier thinking of people such as Thoreau, who went to prison rather than acquiesce in the forced return of runaway slaves to their owners. (Thoreau in turn based his philosophy on the ideas of Granville Sharp who in the 1770’s resigned from the London War Office rather than authorize arms to put down the American revolution; Sharp’s ideas in turn helped to inspire Jefferson and others who drafted the Declaration of Independence.) All these people followed their conscience, at personal danger; the safeguarding of human rights in the final resort will always need to depend upon such integrity and courage.

2. Early warning

83. In cases where evidence appears of an impending genocidal conflict, mounting repression, increasing polarization or the first indications of an unexpected case, an effective early warning system could help save several thousands of lives. This requires an efficient coordinating network, maintained in a state of permanent readiness, which could possibly also watch for early indications of mass famine and exoduses of refugees in conjunction with bodies such as the Office of the United Nations Disaster Relief Coordinator and the International Committee of the Red Cross.

84. On an early warning alert being received, the steps to be taken could include: the investigation of allegations; activating different organs of the United Nations and related organizations, both directly and through national delegations, and making representations to national Governments and to interregional organizations for active involvement; seeking support of the international press in providing information; enlisting the aid of other media to call public attention to the threat, or actuality, of genocidal massacre asking relevant racial, communal and religious leaders, in appropriate cases, to intercede, and arranging the immediate involvement of suitable mediators and conciliators at the outset. Finally, there are the possibility of sanctions which could be applied with public support, by means of economic boycotts, the refusal to handle goods to or from offending States, and selective exclusion from participation in international activities and events. Representations would also be made to Governments to enlist their support in the application of sanctions.

UN Whitaker Report on Genocide, 1985, paragraphs 78-84, pages 41-42 [ Table of Contents , Previous Section , Next Section ]

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