Don’t Be Afraid to Stand Against Genocide

Black and white image of 5 people on a rocky landscape
Tigray, Ethiopia. August 10, 2012 (Rod Waddington via Flickr).

Awol Allo, Keele University; Bridget Conley, World Peace Foundation; Alex de Waal, World Peace Foundation; Cameron Hudson, Atlantic Council; Roba Jilo, The Fletcher School; Paulos Tesfagiorgis; and Awet Weldemichael, Queens University.

December 9 is International Day of Commemoration and Dignity of the Victims of the Crime of Genocide and of the Prevention of this Crime. It was on this day in 1948 that the United Nations adopted its first human rights treaty.

Everyone stands against genocide in principle. Standing against genocide when faced with the crime committed by a real state against its own people, with all the apparatus of coercion and propaganda of that state, is more difficult. Genocide is perpetrated when those who should speak out remain silent. The crime is allowed to proceed unchecked and unpunished when those who are formally committed to its prevention and punishment decide that they have other priorities. The crime is allowed to pass unrecognized when those who seek to document it and to challenge its perpetrators are intimidated into silence, by the baying of the mob.

On 1 July 1949, Ethiopia was the first state to ratify the Genocide Convention. Emperor Haile Selassie signed and ratified the treaty because his country was the victim of Fascist aggression, fueled by toxic racism; because his people were subjected to poison gases rained from the sky; because when he tried to speak at the League of Nations he was shouted down by the jeers of Fascists in the gallery, paid and inflamed by their government. Haile Selassie correctly foresaw that if the instruments of multilateral diplomacy, notably sanctions, were not used diligently against those responsible for violating the norms and principles of the multilateral order, then lawlessness would reign and the world would be bathed in blood.

Today would be an appropriate day for Ethiopia to allow journalists and human rights investigators into every part of the country to document in full transparency what is happening. It is its obligation under the Genocide Convention.

Today would be the right day for the United States to make public what it knows about what crimes committed in Ethiopia over the last year may constitute genocide, and who is responsible.

Today would be the right day for the United Nations Security Council and the African Union Peace and Security Council to reaffirm their solemn commitment to prevent and prosecute the crime of genocide, unconditionally and expeditiously.

The lesson from history is that genocide concealed and unpunished is a blood debt for the future.

Stay Connected