De-Mystifying The G-Word: Enforcement and Success of the Genocide Convention

 UN Photo/Evan Schneider - 70th Anniversary of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.

UN Photo/Evan Schneider – 70th Anniversary of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.

This post by is by Oskar Granskogen Kjorstad, Alexandra Haider and Tess Gallagher. They are students enrolled in PLIT10063 ‘Human Rights in International Relations’, an honours-level course in the School of Social and Political Sciences that explores the political and legal issues surrounding the international enforcement of human rights. As part of their online tutorial activities, students were asked to prepare a blog post about the enforcement of the Genocide Convention. This piece was selected as the standout among the many excellent submissions, chosen for its incisive commentary on the Darfur crisis and its excellent discussion of the Convention’s broader application.

 

 

There is no shortage of forgotten conflicts in history that briefly capture the world’s attention on their way through the news cycle before the next noteworthy event promptly takes their place in the spotlight. Darfur is an especially painful example of such a conflict. State-supported and ethnically motivated violence against the civilian population of Darfur has caused enormous suffering. Yet despite calls from civil society for states to intervene on the grounds that they are obligated to under the Genocide Convention, the international community took no meaningful action to stop the violence. What explains the apathy of the international community and the difficulty of enforcing the Genocide Convention in relation to Darfur?

One of the most basic problems with the enforcement of the Genocide Convention is the difficulty of consistently and accurately applying the legal definition of genocide to cases of mass violence. The Genocide Convention defines genocide as “intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such”. Different international courts have variously understood this definition. In Srebrenica, the ICTY ruled that the murder of 7-8000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys met the legal definition of genocide, though this case was less obviously a genocide than the Holocaust, which led to the Convention. In spite of the wide span in cases identified as genocides, the ICC determined that the violence in Darfur did not amount to “the crime of crimes”- not because the violence was less horrific than expected, but because the particular nature of the violence was deemed not to meet the legal definition of genocide. The U.S., as well as many NGOs and scholars, reached the opposite conclusion. This lack of legal clarity makes it harder to effectively identify cases of genocide, which is a problem in the enforcement of the Genocide Convention. Confusion caused by these legal debates can be used as an excuse by states not to use the word “genocide”, and so avoid pressure to act and subsequent legal obligations to end mass-atrocities.

If the definitional issue is overcome, another obstacle as to why the Genocide Convention is so rarely invoked lies in the semantic power of the word. Sardonically labelled ‘The G Word’, there is often a reluctance to utilise the word for fear of its connotations. Many argue that the term denotes absolute, totemic evil and thus should be treated with caution when used in political discourse. As a result, it is often replaced with other, more (supposedly) palatable alternatives, such as ‘ethnic-cleansing’. Examples of this were seen in the US’ refusal to condemn and recognise the Armenian Genocide; choosing instead to refer to it by the Armenian language phrase ‘Meds Yeghern’, or ‘Great Catastrophe’. This was not without external pressure- such power does the word have that US officials were threatened with losing access to military bases in Turkey if they were to vocalise it. Of course, strategic imperatives often trump moral ones; and evasive terminology in this case appeared the only way to conciliate all sides.

Once the word is invoked however, the game appears to change. If word is weapon, does saying it signify battle? In cases such as Darfur, it appears not. Despite internationalcondemnation and adducing of the Genocide Convention, the violence in Sudan still continues. Numerous resolutions have passed all with limited, if not weak, success. This leads many scholars and critics to question the legitimacy of the Genocide Convention; does it exist to appease, rather than to act?

Given the poor track record of the state system in preventing genocides, there’s a good case to be made for the former. A key explanation for this is that states put their self-interest above their obligation to prevent and punish genocide. States may circumscribe their response in ways that falls short of stopping the atrocities because they don’t see total involvement as self-serving. Upon examination of the crisis in Darfur, this fundamental challenge to the enforcement of the Convention is evident. While the U.S. publicly recognised the crisis as a genocide, Secretary of State Colin Powell asserted that,

UN Photo/Evan Schneider - 70th Anniversary of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.

UN Photo/Evan Schneider

since the U.S. was already putting political pressure on authorities in Khartoum to halt the violence and was providing humanitarian aid to civilians, nothing more was required of it; the U.S. did not have to act to the extent that the Convention required because it was already pursuing narrow unilateral action. Similarly, although it is not formally labeled a genocide, Kurds are being killed en masse in Syria. While the U.S. has supported Kurdish rebels in the past, President Trump pulled American troops out of Syria in October 2019 on the basis that the conflict had “nothing to do with [the U.S.]”, effectively leaving the Kurds without means to protect themselves. A problem that feeds into this is the absence of a clear enforcement mechanism to make states comply with their obligation to prevent genocide. All states are equally obliged to prevent genocide, which leads to a bystander effect by which no one feels obliged to make the first move.

These are some of the reasons why Darfur stands as a painful reminder of the difficulty and political unwillingness of keeping the promise of “never again”.

Photography for Peace: Masterclass & Competition

The Global Justice Academy (GJA) and Political Settlements Research Programme (PSRP) recently hosted a free Peace Photography Masterclass at the University of Edinburgh. The workshop discussed the visual representation of peace and conflict transformation, led by world-leading photographers Martina Bacogalupo, Colin Cavers and Paul Lowe. The photographers discussed their own work, as well as images produced by Edinburgh College of Art (ECA) and Nanjing Institute of Industry and Technology students for the Global Justice Academy’s photography competition, to invite participants to view peace with a new, critical and artistic eye.

Introduced by Professor Jolyon Mitchell (Director of the Centre for Theology and Public Issues) and chaired by the Global Justice Academy’s Astrid Jamar, the workshop began with lectures from three professional photographers, who explained the vision behind their work as well as the challenges involved in visually capturing peace and post-conflict societies.

The first speaker, Paul Lowe (London College of Communication, University of the Arts London), discussed the use of photography in social and ethical discourses using examples from his exhibition project ‘Picturing Moral Courage: The Rescuers’. By capturing the portraits and stories of individuals who risked their own lives to save the lives of others in instances of mass violence and genocide, Lowe invites audiences to hear the testimonies of those pictured with empathy and recognition: to bring to light the personal and human sides of global issues and to make accessible the narrative of the ordinary hero. Lowe’s portraits capture powerful, emotionally charged moments of reunion and testimony. His exhibition aims to provide relatable moral role-models for recovering post-conflict communities to spark positive, active participation in peacebuilding efforts. To this end, the photographs have been made available online and as a travelling outdoor exhibition in order to bring Lowe’s work and its messages to new, usually untargeted audiences. The exhibition has become a focal point for youth workshops across the globe, bringing together different ethnic groups to consider issues of violence, human rights and peace. Responding to audience questions, Lowe expanded on the difficulties of capturing portraits in fraught communities where individuals are afraid of being outspoken, yet ultimately stressed that working together on common creative projects allowed participants to enter into new discursive and collaborative territories.

The second speaker, Martina Bacigalupo (Agence VU), discussed her time living and working in Central East Africa as an independent photojournalist and stressed the importance of lived experience when visualising peace and post-conflict societies. Bacigalupo described her own experience of falling into the journalistic trap of producing westernised images of Africa that follow preconceived, mainstream modes of discourse. Deliberately attempting to counter this, Bacigalupo crafted a new body of work that aims to encapsulate the intimacy and vibrancy of everyday life in Africa: the ordinary, complicated humanity of local communities and not the sensationalised images of war and violence that permeate mass-media depictions. Bacigalupo described a desire to use photography to challenge patronising European views and to create new visual narratives of Africa based on collaboration and equality. Her latest photobook ‘Gulu Real Art Studio’ reprints scraps from an African portrait studio in which the faces have been cut out for ID photos – only the clothing and posture of the sitters remain. By examining that which is usually left out of the frame, Bacigalupo captures rich details about contemporary life in Eastern Africa, revealing insights into the tensions and nuances of post-conflict communities.

Finally, Colin Cavers (Edinburgh College of Art, Edinburgh Napier University) introduced his work for the Global Justice Academy’s annual photography competition. Cavers looked at classic examples from protest photography to illustrate the pitfalls and binary stereotypes that typically inhabit peace photography – those of male/female, floral/industrial divisions – and advocated a move towards more interpretative – rather than literal – modes of image production for the GJA commission. Using a selection of work from the past photography competitions (and previews of the recently announced 2017 winners), Cavers demonstrated how students from the Edinburgh College of Art and the Nanjing Institute of Industry and Technology came together to reinterpret traditional thematic associations of peace and create new subversive images that provoke thought and discussion.

A full selection of entrants’ submissions to current and previous GJA photography competitions can be found here.

After the opening talks, participants engaged in an ‘interactive lunch break’; each used a photograph they felt illustrated peace to briefly introduce themselves and spark discussion on the topic. Groups discussed the idea that peace may be something more than the mere absence of violence, contemplated the intense longing for, and absence of, peace often found in post-conflict images; and debated the importance of disagreements and conflict even within peaceful communities. In a final round-table discussion, participants shared their reflections on the photographers’ work and the themes that had been raised during the afternoon, looking to the future of photography as a means of challenging assumptions about peace and conflict and as an important tool for provoking and facilitating discussion.

Blog post by Heather Milligan, Communications Intern for the Global Justice Academy. This event was supported by a generous grant from the Social Trends Institute, the GJA, the Binks Trust, and the Centre for Theology and Public Issues (CTPI).

The Future of Pan-Africanism

This blog post was written by Micaela Opoku-Mensah, a masters student in Africa and International Development at The University of Edinburgh. Micaela reports from The Future of Pan-Africanism event, hosted recently in Edinburgh, that received funding from the Global Justice and Global Development academies’ joint Innovative Initiative Fund.

Fellow students and lecturers from various disciplines across the University of Edinburgh came together at the Evolution House Boardroom to amplify conversations on ‘The Future of Pan-Africanism’ through a series of panel debates. From tracing the historical foundations, we discussed its current efforts in mobilizing those of African descent and envisaged future ramifications in its influence in African politics, philosophy and economics.

The event opened with the first panel on ‘Pan-Africanism and its Historical Foundations’, led by Dr. Kehinde Andrews (Birmingham City University). Taking us back to the origins of the Pan-African movement, Dr. Andrews drew attention to the importance of differentiating between the all-encompassing ‘Pan-Africanism’ movement with a capital ‘P’ and ‘pan-Africanism’ movement with a small ‘p’, demonstrating that the former refers to the renowned figures W.E.B Du Bois, Marcus Garvey, Kwame Nkrumah and the five Pan-African Congresses and the latter constituting a group of cultural movements that are somewhat ephemeral. Placing emphasis on the tendency to use the terms interchangeably, he explicates that one misses the nuances surrounding the objective. For instance, in regards to Dr. Kwame Nkumah’s end goal of Pan-Africanism to be the United States of Africa, this pushes us to rethink its application in the 21st century and what we mean by the nation-state in Africa.

Following on from this, Dr.Lawrence Dritsas (The University of Edinburgh) also traced the historical trajectories, however he ventured upon a different route talking about the history of pan-African Science, pan-African scientific institutions and explored their combined origins in both colonial and diasporic ideas.

Mr.Muhammed Dan Suleiman, a PhD candidate from the University of Western Australia, digitally spearheaded the second panel on ‘Pan-Africanism and Islamism’ speaking on locating the ‘African’ in contemporary Islamism. He embarked upon critically unpacking the Eurocentric understandings of Islamism and highlighted continuities in laying aside the Afrocentric perspective. Muhammed closed this segment urging the need for scholars to augment discussions.

In the final panel, ‘Pan-Africanism and Prospects for the Future’, was Mr.Nigel Stewart from the Centre for Pan-African Thought. He indicated that we are in a unique time in history where the future is to what degree one can harness and shape the global awakening and resistance into a program for sustainable change towards the ultimate aim for the total liberation of the African continent and its people. He stipulated that the spirit of Pan-Africanism, a beacon of social, cultural, political and economic emancipation is being revived and will continue to speak essentially on the importance of the unity of Africans across the globe. Nigel closed the event with considerable attention to Pan-Africanism becoming a model that represents a framework and pillars of which one can construct values and principles, particularly through corporate institutions, community programs and development programs focusing renewing consciousness in the mode of decolonization.

This workshop was made possible through the generous support of the Global Development Academy, the Global Justice Academy and the Centre of African Studies. I would like to give a special thanks to Sarah-Jane Cooper Knock, Louise McKenzie, the Student Rapporteurs: Courage Matiza, Safiya Mann, Patrick Brobbey and all of the wonderful volunteers from the MSc Africa & International Development, MSc African studies and MSc Global Health & Public Policy student cohort.

Cinema and Social Justice in Zimbabwe: An Evening with Agnieszka Piotrowska

Brooks Marmon is a PhD student in the Centre of African Studies at The University of Edinburgh.  His thesis examines Zimbabwean responses to the broader process of decolonization in Africa. In this blog post, he writes about an illuminating evening in Edinburgh with Agnieszka Piotrowska on cinema and social justice in Zimbabwe.

With support from the Global Justice and Global Development academies’ Innovative Initiative Fund, the University of Edinburgh hosted Dr. Agnieszka Piotrowska (University of Bedfordshire) in March 2017 for a screening of her film Lovers in Time: Or How We Didn’t Get Arrested in Harare and presentation of a paper on post-colonial trauma.  The event explored the theme of ‘Cinema and Social Justice in Zimbabwe’ and was moderated by Dr. Francisca Mutapi from the School of Biological Sciences.

For the better part of the past decade, Piotrowska has been engaged with cinematic and theatrical initiatives in Zimbabwe.  Expanding on her initial training activities undertaken in Zimbabwe with the support of the British Council, Piotrowska has now made several feature-length and short films in the country and recently published Black and White: Cinema, Politics and the Arts in Zimbabwe.

Piotrowska has been particularly engaged with the Harare International Festival of the Arts (HIFA).  This annual festival in the Zimbabwean capital was the subject of one of Piotrowska’s earliest works on Zimbabwe, The Engagement Party in Harare.  A subsequent edition of the Festival formed the backdrop to the film for which we gathered at Thomson’s Land.

Lovers in Time traces the controversy surrounding a play of the same name.  Written by a Zimbabwean, Blessing Hungwe, Piotrowska was selected to direct the performance at the 2014 edition of HIFA.  The play provocatively traces Nehanda and Kaguvi, revered Zimbabwean spirit mediums who played prominent roles resisting the intrusion of white colonists in the late 19th century.  State media criticized the play for reincarnating the characters with a different gender, calling it “a distortion of history” and Piotrowska was requested to make (slight) alterations to the script, which she refused.  The documentary follows the impact of the tension induced by this critical attention on the cast and crew.

Piotrowska spoke frankly on the challenges she faced in directing the play both in the film and during her remarks. Toward the end of the film, following a scene in which the play has been disrupted by a protester, she queries in a voice-over, “I’m left confused and battered, not sure at all anymore.  Did we change anything?  Did we open a space for dialogue about history and race?”  She does not directly answer the question in the film, however during the Q&A, she noted that if she could do it all over again in that moment, she would.

Ultimately, as the title foreshadows, no one gets arrested. Piotrowska continues to work in Zimbabwe.  She has overseen the production of several shorts on the tumultuous relationship between the German academic Flora Veit-Wild and the celebrated Zimbabwean writer, Dambudzo Marechera.  Her latest feature-length piece, a film noir entitled Escape with Joe Ngagu (with whom she also collaborated on Lovers in Time) will soon premier in the UK.

Piotrowska, whose work draws heavily on psychoanalysis, has described herself as a ‘trickster’, subverting dominant structures in a humorous manner.  In light of her continued (and prolific) work in and on Zimbabwe, it seems that the post-colonial trauma she endured in staging Lovers in Time has not dented her ambition to provocatively interrogate the lingering impact of foreign rule on Africa.

 

Rethinking the International Criminal Justice Project in the Global South

This guest post is by Michelle Burgis-Kasthala, who is currently a Research Fellow at the Centre for International Governance and Justice, RegNet, ANU. Michelle will be returning to Edinburgh Law School in 2017-18. This post is re-blogged from ‘Regarding Rights: Academic and Activist Perspectives on Human Rights’ and is based on an article published recently in the Journal of International Criminal Justice: ‘Scholarship as Dialogue? TWAIL and the Politics of Methodology’.

ICC in Ivory Coast in 2013. Image: BBC News

ICC in Ivory Coast in 2013. Image: BBC News

Concerns about the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) continuing relevance in Africa following exit announcements by Burundi, South Africa, and Gambia are widespread. But the picture across the continent is more complex. While some African states have clearly rejected the Court, the majority remain members. How can we explain the fracturing of the Court’s support in Africa? More fundamentally – what is the best way of studying international criminal justice and its effects in the Global South – whether in Africa or elsewhere?

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Following Ghana’s Elections: an IIF Event

On 7 December 2016, the Global Justice and Global Development Academies supported a student-led initiative to follow the elections in Ghana, as part of their Innovative Initiative Fund. In this post, MSc student, Matthew Pflaum, reflects on the evening’s events.

image-1Elections are critical processes for global social and political change, leading to new policies and reforms. Certain elections, referenda, and regions receive widespread attention and coverage – the US election and Brexit, for example – while others are less covered. Elections in the Global South tend to be disregarded by much of the world, and this is a mistake. All elections are significant, principally for local citizens, but also for the rest of the world through geopolitics and trade.

 

During the US election, crowds gathered in tenebrous bars and sterile classrooms to watch the event unfold, their eyes festooned to the glaring screens with constant updates of results. Americans and non-Americans watched with anticipation, feeling that the event was important to their lives. But aren’t all elections important? Should we not also gather to support elections in Burma and Botswana?

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Realising Justice? Reflections on Negotiating Land Reform in Southern Africa

20160516_165223On 16 May 2016 the University of Edinburgh hosted a workshop funded by the British Academy and organised by Professor Anne Griffiths and the Benelex Project Research group, coordinated by Professor Elisa Morgera.

The full-day workshop addressed the issue of access to land as means to realise justice. The workshop intended to discuss four key questions:

  1. the norms that underpin international and transnational governance regimes regulating access to and use of land and the extent to which they have an impact on individual countries’ jurisdictions on land;
  2. who are the actors who are engaged in this field and to what extent do their perspectives overlap or conflict with one another when it comes to promoting equitable and sustainable governance over land;
  3. what impact does globalisation have on the recognition of the legitimacy of plural orders, such as statutory, religious or customary law, and the authority that is accorded to them?; and
  4. what are the most pressing challenges that counties face in administering land and implementing reform given the global pressures that are brought to bear by international and transnational agencies and institutions.

In this post, two visiting postgraduate students – Marghertia Brunori and Komlan Sangbana – offer some reflections from the day.

Marghertia Brunori

The four presentations of the workshop portrayed the same sensible question of access to land by four different angles, allowing to appreciate the subject in its multifaceted complexity.

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Ebola: Judging Reactions and Responses. What Happens Next?

LG Ebola 27 Oct 2014

The University of Edinburgh’s Global Academies have announced their Autumn 2014 Ebola Series in response to the current global crisis. In this short post, Dr Harriet Cornell from the Global Justice Academy reflects on how the global response to Ebola has unfolded in the press, and criticisms that have been voiced by experts in the field.

This evening’s Ebola headlines are divided between pleas for world help from Liberia’s President, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, and blame for the spread and devastation of the outbreak been laid squarely at the doors of the world’s supranational bodies: the World Health Organisation, and the United Nations. Then there is the intersect between the outbreak of the disease in West Africa, and the western media response, with The Guardian running a comment piece entitled The problem with the west’s Ebola response is still fear of a black patient’.

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