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Genocide: Another Inconvenient Truth

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The killing of a people in whole or in part through mass murder, starvation or displacement constitutes the main features of the internationally recognized crime of genocide. The 1985 United Nations Report on Genocide notes: "The right of a person or people not to be killed or avoidably left to die depends upon the reciprocal duty of other people to render protection and help to avert this. The concept of this moral responsibility and interdependence in human society has in recent times received increasing international recognition and affirmation." (UN ECOSoC E/CN.4/Sub.2/1985/6 2 July 1985) This solemn pronouncement was written in a UN report by Mr. B. Whitaker 37 years after the United Nations General Assembly unanimously adopted the the Convention on the Prevention and Protection of the Crime of Genocide (9 December 1948). One would conclude after reading the Whitaker Report to the UN and noticing that ninety-six member UN states approved its contents that all states' governments would firmly guard against acts of genocide anywhere in the world. Twenty-two years since the UN affirmation of Whitaker, states' governments fail to recognize genocide from the past or the present--and so mass murders continue. The grave reality is that Fourth World nations are increasingly the target of genocide now being committed in the name of "anti-terrorism" or worse yet in the name of development.

Genocide was introduced into the laws of the world by Professor Raphael Lemkin of Poland. He combined the Greek word "genos" meaning nation or tribe and the Latin "cide" meaning killing. Lemkin's word was quite obviously speaking to the killing of Fourth World nations. As a consequence, Fourth World nations have a particular interest in the meaning and application of this term and the extent to which the crime of genocide as the 1948 UN Convention affirms governs the conduct of nations and states. Indeed, Fourth World nations have a particular duty to prevent the crime of genocide and to punish those who will commit the crime. While states' governments wrote a law, Fourth World nations must enforce it along with states' governments.

Natural disasters do great damage to life and property all over the world. Each time nature expresses her wrath human beings, animals, plants and all other forms of life are at risk. Fourth World nations that persist in the practice of their culture regularly survive natural disasters--especially when the culture contains memories and stories and knowledge about earlier experience with the threats to life and limb. This ancient knowledge can help the rest of the world's metropolitan populations that have lost the knowledge. In a seeming paradox Fourth World peoples hold in their cultural systems the very knowledge that all human beings need to survive and yet these same peoples are reviled, denounced and marginalized. Not only are Fourth World nations pushed aside as if the metropolitan populations have the "more advanced" and more beneficial knowledge, many nations are targets of genocide and "delayed-action genocide" with the actual or potential lost of whole peoples and the knowledge of their culture.

It appears that the metropolitan populations now contribute to the impending disaster of "global warming" after years of profligate burning of earth's carbon-based resources and spewing carbon dioxide and other gases into earth's atmosphere. The same metropolitan populations threaten the diversity of the world's food stuffs by standardizing food production--eliminating ancient foods and wild foods far more nutritionally beneficial than the commercially created and the genetically modified foods. Ancient knowledge of time and space is deeply rooted in many cultures throughout the world and yet metropolitan populations by sheer force demand press Fourth World nations to adopt trans-state religions. Metropolitan societies have a constant demand for the operation of trans-state corporations that force Fourth World peoples off their lands (often with the aid and assistance of states' governments) to engage in oil extraction, mining, forest wood and natural medicines extraction, and mass-production fisheries.

All of these activities threaten human survival--most particularly the survival of many Fourth World nations in whole or in part. These activities are the product not of nature, but of human decision, and the failure of human beings in metropolitan societies particularly to recognize how they are befouling the earth. Political and economic systems developed for the operation of metropolitan societies militate against the formulation of new decisions to stop the human created disasters. Genocide comes in many forms, but the basic reality remains the same: destruction of a people in whole or in part.

Denial of genocide is the most common method for avoiding the identification of genocidal incidents. Denial is used to avoid punishing the crime of genocide. By pretending an incident does not occur when it obviously does, the perpetrators or their protectors must be held responsible for the crime.

The government of Turkey denies what is known as the Armenian Genocide in 1915 reported by the then German Ambassador Wangenheim when he wrote on 7 July 1915: "the government is indeed pursuing its goal
of exterminating the Armenian race in the Ottoman Empire" (Wilhelmstrasse archives). Though the successor Turkish Government helped to institute trials of a few of those responsible for the massacres at which they were found guilty, the present official Turkish contention is that genocide did not take place although there were many casualties and dispersals in the fighting, and that all the evidence to the contrary is forged." A bill is being considered by the United States Congress recognizing the existence of genocide having been committed against the Armenians. The United States President wants to deny such official recognition to protect relations between the government of Turkey and the United States. This is a form of denial.

In the 1980s when the government of Guatemala was slaughtering Mayans exercising a genocidal killing of perhaps 200,000 people I called for the formation of an international tribunal on the genocide in Guatemala. Allegations had been made that the United States government aided the Guatemala government through a "third party" agreement with Israel. Charges were swirling about that the Guatemalan government was systematically killing a displacing Mayan peoples with the strategic advice and assistance of the Israeli government. "Strategic Hamlets" in the fashion of those created in South Vietnam in the 1960s and 1970s received Mayan people forced at the point of gun--it had been alleged. More than 1 million Mayan villagers had been forced into the Mountains and into Belize while more than 100,000 more fled across the border with Mexico to take refuge in the villages of Chiapas. I began our efforts at the Center for World Indigenous Studies by organizing an international body of respected jurists and a venue (the Dutch Parliament). I wanted very much to have the most noted advocate of genocidal prosecution Mr. Simon Wiesenthal join and, indeed, lead the juridical panel. I traveled to Vienna to meet with Mr. Wiesenthal in 1986. Barney Nietschmann of the University of California-Berkely Geography Department and a Founding Board Member of the Center for World Indigenous Studies joined Mr. Wiesenthal and me for lunch.

Not wasting any time, I immediately launched into my purpose for wanting to meet Mr. Wiesenthal: would he serve on the panel of judges in an International Mayan Genocide trial? Initially I was pleased to learn that Mr. Wiesenthal would be eager to help. Then I asked the most pertinent question: Mr. Wiesenthal. Do you believe you could maintain your objectivity as a judge if members of the Israeli government are found to be culpable in the genocide of Mayan Indians?

Mr. Wisenthal pushed back from the table and said: "That cannot happen. You have been misled. Israel would not be a party to such a thing. No, I cannot participate in such a forum."

The alleged genocide committed against Mayan Indian people remains unresolved though Nobel Laureate Rigoberto Menchu is working to now establish a tribunal.

The intentional destruction in whole or in part of a nation, of a people is a crime of genocide. Not only have the Jews experienced this horrible crime, but so have the Roma, the Chechens, the Kurds, the Assyrians who now wish to have a recognition of their experience as having occurred along with the Armenians and the Pontus Greeks. The Lakota, Apache, and many other peoples in the Americas along with the peoples of Cambodia and the Hutu and the Tutsi of Rawanda, and the Fur, Zagawa and Masalit of Darfur in the Sudan. Indeed, for many Fourth World peoples delayed-action genocide is being committed virtually every day with denial of lands and resources to native peoples sufficient for their survival. This must be known as the crime of genocide springing from the intentional development of lands and resources that destroy the way of life of Fourth World peoples.

It is inconvenient to note that many individual leaders of government, business and religion have actively participated in the destruction in whole or in part of Fourth World peoples. Fourth World nations have a duty to bring these people to just and so do states' governments.

(c) 2007 Center for World Indigenous Studies

(Dr. Rÿser is the author of Fourth World Geopolitics and the forth-coming book Nationcraft, and actively participated in the twelve-year effort to draft the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.)

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  1. “My dear friend, as long a you are in exile, yearning for freedom, I will accompany you. You will not be alone, ever….If G-d would grant me years, we could go to Tibet together.
    -Eli Wiesel to the Dalai Lama

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