64 Years of the Genocide Convention
"We are in the presence of a crime without a name," said British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in 1941, in a radio broadcast in which he described the barbarity of the German occupation of the Soviet Union.
Only a few years later, thanks to the determined and tireless efforts of the Polish Jewish lawyer Raphael Lemkin, this type of atrocity the destruction of entire human groups would have a name and be declared a crime under international law in a treaty that is binding on all states that ratify it: the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. While it was too late to save the Jews of Europe, there was a lesson to be learned from the widespread passivity in the face of the Nazi mass killings. As Raphael Lemkin wrote in the postwar years, "by declaring genocide a crime under international law and by making it a problem of international concern, the right of intervention on behalf of minorities slated for destruction has been established."
December 9 marked the 64th anniversary of the UN's adoption of the Genocide Convention, which has come to embody a milestone in the history of human rights and the promise of a world free of this odious crime.
We know that this promise, symbolized by the words "Never again," has not been fulfilled. Still, the Genocide Convention laid vital foundations and has borne significant fruit.
Sixty-four years down the line, mass atrocities cannot be universally ignored. More states have signed the Convention, fewer states believe that sovereignty is a license to kill, many perpetrators have been held accountable for their crimes, and, above all, the international community has shown that it can take collective action to prevent and punish genocide.
Best wishes for a peaceful new year.
"Commemorating the Dakota 38"
by Elizabeth Baer, Professor of English, Holocaust Studies and African Studies at Gustavus Adolphus College
U.S. soldiers executed 38 Dakota by hanging in Mankato, Minn. on Dec. 26, 1862. The scene is depicted in this painting by J. Thullen in 1884.(Courtesy of Minnesota Historical Society)
On December 26, 2012, at 10am, a solemn procession of horses, carrying Dakota men, women and children, will enter Mankato, MN and proceed to a site near the Minnesota River. These riders will have begun their journey in Lower Brule, South Dakota, and no matter the weather, they will ride for sixteen days in order to arrive at precisely this spot at precisely this time. They will gather near a hulking stone statue of a buffalo, across from the Mankato Public Library.
It was on this spot, at precisely this time, that the largest mass execution in American history took place one hundred and fifty years ago. Thirty-eight Dakota akicita (warriors) were simultaneously hung by order of Abraham Lincoln as punishment for their part in the Dakota-US War of 1862. That war, which has mistakenly been called the "Sioux Uprising," lasted for six weeks from August 18 to late September, 1862; it happened for many complicated reasons, one of which was the failure of the US government to deliver the gold, provisions, and food promised by the treaties in which the Dakota signed away thousands of acres of land. The Dakota were starving. Little Crow, who led the akicita into battle, did so against his better judgment. He had been to Washington, DC, and knew the might of the government and the huge number of Euro-American settlers.
Disease, war, and starvation. These are the three primary factors that caused the genocide of the indigenous people of North America. Historian David Stannard estimates that 16,000,000 native people lived in North America pre-Columbus. By the late 1800's, only 250,000 remained. As Stannard puts it in his book American Holocaust, "There was, at last, almost no one left to kill." Dakota scholar Dr. Chris Mato Nunpa has written and spoken persuasively about how the genocide of Native Americans can be accurately described by the United Nations Convention on Genocide, though, of course, this convention and the very word "genocide" did not exist until after World War II.
In 1862, the population of Mankato was roughly 400 people, but 4,000 whites came to observe the spectacle of the hanging. The hastily buried bodies of the Dakota men where dug up by physicians eager to use their corpses for experimentation. In subsequent decades, beer ads carried images of the hanging as did metal trays used in bars. This year's commemoration will be a more sober, somber affair and, it is hoped, will bring deeper understanding of the complexities of this profoundly sad moment in American history.
Dr. Elizabeth Baer, Professor of English and Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Gustavus Adolphus College. She recently completed teaching a course "Commemorating Controversy: the US-Dakota War of 1862." which was accompanied by a six part lecture series open to the general public in January of 2012.
Her new book The Golem Redux: From Prague to Post-Holocaust Fiction is available from Wayne State University Press.
Up coming art exhibition: Hena Uŋkiksuyapi: In Commemoration of the Dakota Mass Execution of 1862 at Hillstrom Museum of Art at Gustavus Adolphus College from December 17, 2012 through February 8, 2013. Click here for more information.
Titles for Further Research
David Stannard, American Holocaust: The Conquest of the New World (1992).A well-regarded and relentless account of the genocide of the indigenous people of the Americas as a result of four centuries of colonization and adherence to the concept of American exceptionalism.
Waziyatawin, What Does Justice Look Like? The Struggle for Liberation of Dakota Homeland (2008). A riveting account of "how Minnesotans wrested the land from Dakota people" and proposals for restitution and reparations.
"Dakota 38"(Smooth Feather Productions, 2011). This award-winning film, which can be downloaded from the film's website, recounts the dream vision of Jim Miller, a Dakota spiritual leader; that dream led to the first commemorative march to Mankato in 2008, which is dramatically presented in the film.
Gwen Westerman and Bruce White. Mni Sota Makoce: The Land of the Dakota (2012). A remarkable new book, providing Dakota history from a Dakota perspective. One reviewer has called it "a new genre of scholarship . . . a geo-historical discourse that dexterously interweaves multiple voices across generations, cultures and places."
Links: US-Dakota War 1862
|The Crime of Genocide|
by Hollie Nyseth Brehm, Ph.D. candidate in the department of Sociology at the University of Minnesota.
Rain pelted the side of the empty school building, drowning out all other sounds. In the distance I could see lightning strike across the rolling green hills. The weather
couldn't have fit the situation better. For even though the classrooms were vacant, they were far from empty-they held the corpses of over 800 people killed in the 1994 genocide perpetrated against Tutsis in Rwanda. Mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers-even babies-lay on tables where students' desks might have stood. Some held flowers, likely put there by memorial staff; others clutched rosaries, perhaps left from their last moments.
CHGS Interdisciplinary Workshop
The Center's Interdisciplinary Workshop has now been meeting bi-weekly since October and has successfully brought together faculty and graduate students to provide support, feedback and dialogue on the subject areas of Holocaust studies, genocide and mas violence and atrocities.
Megan Corbin, Spanish and Portuguese Studies presented her work "Haunted Objects: Spectral Testimony in Latin American Post-Dictatorship," and Murat Altun, Anthropology presented "Kalandar Winter Festival: Xenophobia and the Politics of Memory in Northeastern Turkey."
Visiting Professor Matti Jutila presented his paper "Ideology of Racial Extermination? Representations of Marxist Ethnopolitics in "The Soviet Story" Professor Jutila 's paper focused on the documentary, "The Soviet Story" by director Edvins Snore. The film is a troubling example of a movement in Europe to use history for contemporary political purposes.
Dr. Jutila's main unifying theme of his research has been nationalism; how it affects contemporary world politics and the construction of political communities. His doctoral research investigated how transnational governance of the rights of national minorities has challenged nationalism externally by circumscribing the sovereignty of nation-states, and internally by challenging the idea of national homogeneity as the foundation of political communities.
For more information on the workshop visit the CHGS home page.
Visiting High School Students Study Primary Sources at CHGS
Students from Rosemount High School's Advanced German Language Class visited the CHGS library and worked with the Center's outreach coordinator Jodi Elowitz
to learn about the Holocaust through German Primary Source documents owned by the Center. Students were introduced to ideology and thought of the perpetrators and examined and interpreted German documents. They also watched Survivor testimony from the USC Shoah Foundation
and were introduced to the wealth of resources the CHGS has to offer educators and students.
Susan Sullivan, German language teacher from Rosemount had this to say about the workshop. "We had an amazing time yesterday! We had a long conversation about our visit and they felt such excitement and ownership over the interpretation of the documents that we actually threw out their original essay assignment and decided to focus on a new assignment utilizing the resources on your web site. Now the students are finding an artifact or a work of art, writing a bibliography on a person they choose. They will write the bibliography in German and create a presentation in English placing the artifacts, documents and art in the social and historical context of World War II and the Holocaust. We are all so excited to work on this together."
CHGS can set up a workshop for educators or students utilizing various source documents and resources. Contact Jodi Elowitz
for more information.
Genocide since 1945 by Phillip Spencer
Published June 15, 2012 by Routledge Press-176 pages.
In 1948 the United Nations passed the Genocide Convention. The international community was now obligated to prevent or halt what had hitherto, in Winston Churchill's words, been a "crime without a name", and to punish the perpetrators. Since then, however, genocide has recurred repeatedly. Millions of people have been murdered by sovereign nation states, confident in their ability to act with impunity within their own borders.
Genocide since 1945 aims to help the reader understand how, when, where and why this crime has been committed since 1945, why it has proven so difficult to halt or prevent its recurrence, and what now might be done about it. It is essential reading for all those interested in the contemporary world.
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