Genocide Since 1945: Never Again?
After the crimes of the Holocaust became internationally known, the world vowed it would never happen again. But history since 1945 has shown that the international community has stood by, again and again, as genocide unfolds. From Bangladesh to Darfur, humanity is still struggling to end what Winston Churchill once called a "crime without a name."
During the summer of 1941, British intelligence began intercepting radio reports from Nazi mobile killing squads in Poland about mass exterminations taking place there in the wake of the German invasion. Not wanting to give away the fact that the British were intercepting these communiqués -- and still not aware of the full dimensions of the Final Solution -- Winston Churchill referred to the information only cryptically in his now-famous August 1941 radio speech when he said, "We are in the presence of a crime without a name."
Rwanda showed again that the world hasn't stopped genocide.
More than once is right. "The second half of the twentieth century didn't include cases of such large scale" as the Holocaust, says Dr. Ben Kiernan, director of the Yale Genocide Studies Program, "but there were more incidents." Some chalk up the failure of the world powers to stop the killing to the difficulties of defining genocide. Others cite the fact that exact rules for intervention aren't clear enough in international law. Whatever the reason, the world has repeatedly failed in its promise of 'never again.' While there is disagreement about which post-1945 massacres constitute genocide -- some experts say that there have been 37 incidents since 1945 -- there are several that everyone can universally agree upon.
The war for liberation that broke out in March 1971 in Bangladesh stemmed from the election of the Awami League, which demanded independence for Bangladesh, in what was then East Pakistan. The genocidal "Operation Search Light" was carried out against Bengalis by the West Pakistan army as a response. The ten months of killing resulted in the deaths of an estimated 500,000 to 3 million people, mostly Hindus. "Kill three million of them," then-Pakistani President Yahya Khan reportedly said at the time, "and the rest will eat out of our hands." None of the Pakistani generals involved in the genocide has ever been brought to trial, and remain at large.
East Timor, 1975-1999
On December 7th, 1975, after the Portuguese left the island of East Timor in Indonesia following hundreds of years of colonial rule, the Indonesian army invaded, provoking a long war of independence. During the 25 years of struggle, 200,000 East Timorese, or about a third of the total population, are estimated to have been killed. After a referendum for independence was finally held in 1999, violence again broke out, resulting in thousands of deaths as UN peace-keepers stood by.
Bones gathered from the Killing Fields.
In the history of Guatemala's bloody 36 years of civil war from 1960 to 1996, the early 80s stand out as a period of particular viciousness. In what became known as "The Silent Holocaust," the Guatemalan army methodically worked its way through the country's Mayan communities, killing men, women and children. A total of 200,000 people died during the war, many thousands of them Mayan victims of genocide.
A mass grave near Srebrenica.
Darfur, Sudan, 2004 - ????
Refugees in Sudan.
There is, perhaps, one hopeful sign: The development of the International Criminal Court. "Since 1990 there has been a world response that, although inadequate, is moving in the right direction and may help to deter future cases from occurring," says Kiernan. With the collapse of the Cold War, he says, "there was an increase of ethnic conflict, which in turn lead to an increase in genocides in places like Bosnia and Rwanda. At the same time, though, there has been an increase in prosecution, with the founding of the International Criminal Court and various international criminal tribunals." When the court begins trying cases later this year, Darfur is likely to be one of its first. If nothing else, it may show that the world is finally getting serious.
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