"To the living we owe respect, but to the dead we owe only the truth" - Voltaire

Never Forget

Genocide, ethnic cleansing, terror. The super-rich - Donald Trump, Bill Gates. Megalomaniacal world leadership - Blair, Bush. This is the gift we give our children. I think I preferred my gift of Never Forget.

I read the news today, oh boy

This is why I do it. It is because I need to know and I need to tell others and we need to stop it happening.

On Rwanda: my passion and the need to know

Just imagine. Your highly educated, sophisticated neighbour decides overnight that you are the enemy and that you and your kin need to be wiped off the face of the Earth. It happened and it can happen again.

Genocides from 1915 to 2006

With the possible exception of the Holocaust, the definition and application of the term ‘genocide’ has been fraught with controversy.

Right and Wrong

Since the Genocide Convention was created in 1948 at the end of World War II, there have been only two events that have been deemed to have constituted genocide. Those events are Srebrenica and Rwanda. Srebrenica was the largest mass murder in Europe since World War II.

Friday, 18 November 2011

Open Society Justice Initiative Fact Sheet on Cambodian Tribunal

The Open Society Justice Initiative has issued an excellent two page fact sheet on the work of the ECCC and the Cambodia Tribunal.  You can download the PDF document from this page: Fact Sheet: Khmer Rouge Leaders on Trial.

There was much that I already knew on the fact sheet but a couple of items that were new to me.  For instance, of interest is the fact that the case will be split into a series of phases in order that each issue might be dealt with in full and that judgement can be reached before moving on to the next phase.  This was decided “due to concerns that the elderly defendants might otherwise die before any judgments are brought, and similar concerns about further delaying justice for surviving victims”.

The first phase of the trial will deal with the period immediately following the Khmer Rouge rise to power in April 1975, when a massive proportion of the population was forcibly removed from Phnom Penh and other cities and forced to work in the countryside and rural areas. 

It is intended that future phases of the case will focus on “crimes committed at co-operatives, worksites, security centres, and execution sites, as well as other crimes, including genocide against minorities”.

There has been quite a lot of controversy surrounding the Cambodia Tribunal lately, especially with respect to cases 003 and 004 regarding officially unnamed defendants.  There have been allegations of mishandling of cases and Judge Blunk resigned in October citing political interference in the case.  Despite these difficulties, I concur with the Open Society Justice Initiative when they state:

“If the trial is carried out independently, transparently, and in accord with international standards, it will make a major contribution to the cause of accountability in Cambodia and to the global movement for international justice”.

I would recommend downloading the document as it is a short, easy and informative read.  A direct link to the PDF: Fact Sheet: Khmer Rouge Leaders on Trial (pdf).

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Cambodia Tribunal Declares Ieng Thirith Unfit to Stand Trial

Ieng Thirith
AFP/Archives/Heng Sinith

The Washington Post is reporting that the UN-backed Cambodia war crimes tribunal, the ECCC, has found Ieng Thirith unfit to stand trial on the grounds of diminished capacity due to Alzheimer’s disease. Ieng Thirith has been reported as showing signs of dementia.

This comes just four days before the start of Case 002 in the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia which is focusing on crimes committed by the Khmer Rouge, a communist, Maoist party that ruled Cambodia from 1975 to 1979 under the leadership of Pol Pot

The Khmer Rouge set up a radical form of agrarian communism whereby population was set to work on the land and the urban, educated population was removed from cities.  Working conditions were extreme and between 20 and 25% of the population was literally worked to death.  It has proved impossible to gauge accurate figures but estimates say that between 850,000 and 1.5 million men, women and children died from execution, torture, forced work or starvation.

Case 001 of the ECCC was against Kaing Guek Eav, known as Comrade Duch, who was found guilty of crimes against humanity and sentenced to 35 years in prison in July 2010.  Duch was the prison chief of the notorious Tuol Sleng Jail (S-21) in Phnom Penh during the Khmer Rouge regime and was responsible for the deaths of approximately 15,000 people.

Public gallery of Cambodia Tribunal
Public gallery during testimony of S-21 survivor Vann Nath on 29 June 2009 [Source: ECCC]

Case 002, due to start on 21 November 2011, is the case against Nuon Chea, Ieng Sary, Khieu Samphan and Ieng Thirith.  This case is in an entirely different league to the former case as it is against four former high-ranking, government officials. 

Khieu Samphan, aged 79, was the former Head of State; Nuon Chea, aged 84, was former Deputy Secretary of the Communist Party of Kampuchea; Ieng Sary, aged 85, was the former Deputy Prime Minister for Foreign Affairs; and his wife, Ieng Thirith, aged 78, was the former Minister of Social Affairs.

Despite the numbers of people that perished during the Khmer Rouge regime, legally, the event is not classified as a genocide because the perpetrators were of the same nationality and ethnic group as the victims and there was no systematic attempt to destroy a certain ethnic, racial, religious or national group.

Therefore, case 002 brought charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity against the four defendants.

Nevertheless, in December 2009, charges of genocide were brought against Nuon Chea, Ieng Sary and Khieu Samphan and later against Ieng Thirith in relation to the brutal slaughter and oppression of Cambodia’s ethnic Vietnamese and Cham Muslim minorities during the Khmer Rouge era.  Charges of murder, imprisonment and torture have also been brought against the defendants.

The Cambodia Tribunal was always going to be problematic in that they only began 30 years after the brutal events of the Khmer Rouge era.  We are experiencing similar problems with aging defendants with the Ratko Mladić trial less than 20 years after the events.  The difficulty is that these people committed unspeakable acts and the trials are as important for the punitive element as they are in unearthing the atrocities that were committed.  The ECCC is beset by scandal and setbacks at present and I just hope that they can push through and get to the bottom of this senseless and tragic time in Cambodian history.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Immigration and Human Rights: Alabama

This is a guest post by Anthony Garcia.

The U.S. economy has not been faring well in recent years. Politicians try to gain election momentum on issues of high rates of joblessness, and this can be used as a justification for racism and human rights violations to flourish. Many citizens from both uneducated and highly educated backgrounds blame immigration for the country’s woes, using rhetoric about job stealing and who is or is not a “real” American to explain why we as a nation are spiraling into debt and losing jobs fast. For many of us in America, especially for minority citizens and Mexican Americans, this type of anti- “alien” rhetoric can ruin lives. Not only does it dehumanize, but it disallows for any nuances in personal situation, completely compartmentalizing and “othering” immigrants of color.

Campesinos harvesting summer squash
Campesinos harvesting summer squash uploaded by Robert Dickey on Flickr

There is potential for crisis on the human rights front now occurring in the southern belt states of the U.S., with state laws seeking to close the flow of illegal immigration. The patrol for illegal immigrants in Border States has moved inward, so people of color are not just being profiled at the border anymore, but they may not be safe from harassment inland either. This has already happened in Arizona, where you can get pulled over for suspicion of being an alien. In other words, if you are a person of any shade darker than lily white, you can be pulled over for just that. The recent laws in Alabama have increased anxiety and business loss for those employers that depend on workers who are willing to do difficult tasks for little pay. Although racial profiling has occurred in the US for years, it is now being sanctioned because conservative politicians are determined that “only Americans” should work in America.

The issue is not a small one; of the 11 million immigrants in the U.S. that are undocumented or considered “illegal aliens,” more than two-thirds are directly placed in the country’s work labor pool. This influx affects the U.S. industrial economy at multiple levels, most notably farming and food production, which critically depends on undocumented “alien” labor. Americans just don’t work such jobs, viewing the pay as too low for work that is manually difficult. America relies on immigrants for survival, but things have been getting even more heated because of the economic strain.

In 2011 four states have already passed legislation making it harder for undocumented workers to simply stay within those jurisdictions, and Alabama has become the fifth. Alabama’s law included an additional concerning requirement for schools to check students’ immigration statuses. Thus, children of color cannot go to school without fear or being harassed and terrorized. There is a lack of a national standard at the federal level, so when states make laws like this that could affect human rights in Alabama, Arizona, and California, there is no means to regulate it yet at a national level in order to make sure that rights are not being violated and people will not be abused.

Campesino Nicholas
Campesino Nicholas uploaded by Robert Dickey on Flickr

Unfortunately, in its zeal to make things “uncomfortable” for targeted groups, Alabama’s state may have infringed on human rights laws, regardless of whether they are undocumented or not. In fundamental areas such as criminal law, education, and emergency health, everyone has a right to certain treatment under federal legislation. The state’s attempt to enforce school immigration checks has brought up the ghosts of its shady past in the Civil Rights movement, and the nation is paying attention. However, the damage in Alabama to countless families has already begun.

In a counter move to the Obama Administration’s protest that the law violated human rights and broke federal law, southern state proponents for tougher immigration pushed for new congressional laws supporting those that exist in Alabama now, trying to part the federal government from interfering with existing state immigration laws. The hope is that by cutting off the Executive branch support, the financial support to sue the affected states will dry up and kill the Department of Justice litigation in its tracks. This political maneuvering despite information that contradicts the belief that Americans want, deserve, and are going to fill the jobs that require food to be picked now, the Alabama legislators have enacted the law, including the school immigration checks.

This has not only disrespected citizens and their outcries, but has had a chilling effect on the communities in Alabama. Parents, worried about immigration officials or law enforcement personnel grabbing their kids on the way to class, have pulled their children out of the institutions. Not only does this hurt the child involved, suddenly losing access to education, it instills fear in multiple generations. Intentionally barring these kids from an education violates federal law, and lays the groundwork for further rights violations.

Alternatives are being discussed, but not fast enough. What is scariest about this law is that despite lack of support from a federal level and a citizen level for many farmers, the law is still enforced. If that is possible, then it is entirely probable that states will continue to enact racist and discriminatory policies that violate federal law and human rights.

About the Guest Author


Anthony recently completed his graduate education in English Literature. A New Mexico native, he currently resides and writes in Seattle, Washington. He writes primarily about education, travel, literature,graduate programs, and American culture.

Friday, 4 November 2011

USHMM Fellow Michael Dobbs to Cover Mladic Trial, Research “Origins of Evil”

ushmmMichael Dobbs is an award-winning foreign correspondent and author who is currently serving as a Goldfarb fellow at the Committee on Conscience at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

This talented journalist will travel to the Hague to observe the trial of Ratko Mladic at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.  He will also travel to Srebrenica, Sarajevo and Belgrade, interviewing not only the victims of Ratko Mladic and his men, but also his associates and, I presume, supporters.

He is currently blogging about his experiences on his blog at ForeignPolicy.com.  At the outset, his posts appear to be balanced as he searches for the truth and questions what he is observing.  He wrote of his difficulties in accepting the term genocide when referring to the massacre at Srebrenica in his post Defining Genocide

I wanted to express a knee-jerk reaction to this, we all do when faced with the overwhelming abundance of genocide denial with respect to both Rwanda and Srebrenica.  But on reading his post, it turns out that his question was well considered and he appeared satisfied at his affirmative answer.  These questions are important and need to be asked and answered.  We can’t sweep them under the carpet for fear that we might be pandering to the fantasies of genocide-deniers.

There is no doubt that Michael has a long, challenging journey ahead and in the video below, he discusses the work that he will be doing and the questions he intends to answer:

His questions will include:

  • Why did the massacre at Srebrenica happen?
  • Could it have been prevented by the international community?
  • What lessons have we taken from the series of trials of former Yugoslav military leaders over the last decade?
  • Have these trials contributed to helping to prevent future genocides?

You can follow Michael Dobb on Twitter: @MichaelDobbs and you can also follow the USHMM: @HolocaustMuseum.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Serbia Reiterates Call to Mutually Withdraw Genocide Suits

Slobodan Homen
Credit: OSCE/Milan Obradovic

Serbian State Secretary at the Ministry of Justice and PR coordinator Slobodan Homen has reiterated the Serbian position that it would be best for both Serbia and Croatia to withdraw their mutual genocide suits.  However, B92.com reports that Homen has stated that if Croatia do not withdraw their claim then Serbia have no choice but to defend its interests.

Croatia initially filed the Application of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (Croatia v. Serbia) with the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in July 1999.  Preliminary objections culminated on November 18, 2008 when the ICJ ruled against Serbia's three objections to the case and decided that the court has jurisdiction over the case.

In January 2010, Serbia filed a counter-memorial against Croatia.  This prompted the court to issue an order on February 4, 2010 stating that they required a reply by Croatia and a rejoinder by Serbia to ensure equality between the parties and to give Croatia the opportunity to reply to Serbia’s counter-claims.  They fixed time limits for these proceedings.  Croatia was to issue their reply by December 20, 2010, which they did, and Serbia was given until November 4, 2011 to submit their rejoinder.

Croatia’s Case Against Serbia

In the application to institute proceedings [1999, PDF], Croatia assert that by seizing control of the Knin region and eastern Slavonia and their shelling and attacking of portions of Dalmatia, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY) drove Croat and non-Serb citizens from the areas with the intent to "ethnically cleanse" these regions, and to unite them with the FRY to form a "greater" Serbian State”.  They see this as constituting a violation of the Genocide Convention.

They further assert that by instilling fear and panic into the Serbian population in the Knin region immediately prior to the commencement of Operation Storm, the FRY committed a further violation of the Genocide Convention when they “directed, instigated and coerced the Serb population …. to evacuate from the area, thus creating a second "ethnic cleansing" of the area”.

They further state their intention to show that the FRY conducted a campaign of terror designed to bring about the destruction of the Croat and non-Serb communities in part or whole, the causation of serious physical and mental harm and the imposition of measures designed to bring about the prevention of births, all violations of the Genocide Convention.

Serbia’s Case Against Croatia

In the counter-memorial filed on January 4, 2010, Serbia claimed that Croatia committed acts against ethnic Serbs living in the Krajina Region (UN Protected Areas North and South) in Croatia during August 1995 with the intention to destroy the local population and rid the area of ethnic Serbs.  Specifically, they claim that acts committed during operation Storm violated the Genocide Convention article II, a) killing members of the group; b) causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; c) deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part [see ICJ Press Release February 18,2010].

In addition, B92.com reported in January 2010 that the counter-memorial detailed crimes committed against Croatia's ethnic Serb population in Gospić, Sisak, Pakračka Poljana, Karlovac, Osijek, Paulin Dvor, Medački Džep.  They cite crimes against victims not only during the 1991-1995 conflict, but also after the war when ethnic Serb refugees tried to return to their homes.

Finally, Serbia sought to present the lawsuit in the context of historical relations between the two countries, focusing on World War II, the Ustasha involvement in the persecution of Serbs and the mass killings that occurred at Jasenovac.

Serbia continues to maintain that this is not a matter that should be played out in the courts but one that should be dealt with through negotiation and reconciliation. 

It is indeed regrettable that the Truth Commission: Serbia and Montenegro failed in 2003 as such a commission would play an important role in paving the way to understanding, forgiveness, acceptance and reconciliation.  As it stands, tensions remain high and emotions volatile.

However, this is not in any way an excuse to avoid the investigation and prosecution of claims of genocide, if the ICJ sees merit in the claims.  In short, if genocide was committed, then there is simply no avoiding a trial.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

On Rehabilitation and Punishment

Window of the "Starkville City Jail"

Johannesburg, South Africa
6.45pm. Monday 17 April 2006.  I logged onto a local news site and was thrilled to see a photo of Brett Goldin, my colleague Peter’s son.  Brett was an up-and-coming actor and we’d been closely following his successes over the years, sharing in Peter’s pride and excitement as Brett appeared in plays, on television and landed his first film roles.

6.47pm. Monday 17 April 2006. Oh no.  No, no, no, no, no.  Brett Goldin and his friend Richard Bloom were carjacked around midnight on 15/16 April 2006, stripped naked, shot in the back of the head and left to die beside the highway outside of Cape Town.  Murder.

Link: Five held after murder of Crazy Monkey actor [IOL]
Link: Double Murder Leaves Arts Community in Tears [IOL]

The next six months passed in a blur as we struggled to come to terms with the murder that broke the hearts of Peter and his family.  Nothing felt right or safe in the world anymore.

On a personal level, I suffered from nightmares and insomnia and was overcome by images of somebody turning towards me, pulling out a gun and pointing it at my head.  This had in fact happened to me in January 1998 when I was in a bank robbery.  It was difficult to see it at the time (and these intrusive images and nightmares lasted for two years until early 2008) but the murder of these two people was a trigger and finally forced me to confront the unresolved issues stemming from that bank robbery.

29 May 2006: Nurshad Davids and Jayde Wyngaard turn state witnesses.  They admitted to robbing and carjacking Brett and Richard and agreed to testify against the alleged killers Shavaan Marlie and Clinton Davids.  They were convicted of robbery, kidnapping and possession of an unlicensed firearm and ammunition and sentenced to 12 years in prison.

Link: Secrecy surrounds Goldin, Bloom witnesses [IOL]

9 January 2007: Peter Goldin passed away, most of us believed of a broken heart.

In February 2007 we made the decision to leave South Africa.  We try to tell people it wasn’t because of the crime but of course it was.  It just wasn’t because of these crimes.  It was because I knew two other people who had been murdered, shot in the back of the head execution style and because I had been attacked in my car and in my home.  These murders were just the final straw.

21 May 2007: The murderers of Brett Goldin and Richard Bloom confessed to their crimes, thus avoiding a long, drawn-out trial.  They were sentenced to 28 years each.

Link: Goldin, Bloom: Plea spells out executions [IOL]


At the time Brett Goldin and Richard Bloom were murdered, I not only believed in the death penalty, I wanted to pick up a gun and mete out justice myself.  (The death penalty was abolished in South Africa in 1995, with the last execution carried out in 1989). 

I wrote this in May 2006:

Hello anger (a love poem for Nurshad Davids)

    Were I to come upon you face to face
    In a dark time and isolated place
    And were I to have a gun or even a knife
    Then I would not hesitate to take your life
    I would not hesitate to tear out your eyes
    To take you under, to drown you in your lies

    But could I really use a gun?
    A bullet is over before its begun
    No, anger takes me to a blacker place
    I plot and plan a more appalling fate
    I would want to make you beg and plead
    Make you see the horror of your sickening deed
    I want to rip the heart out of your mother's chest
    Devastate her with grief, make her beat her breast

    And when you think my calm has come
    Mercy is here, forgiveness is done
    You will see in my eye a terrifying resolve
    See me step out of my moral and upright mould
    For I do not purport to be Judge or Jury
    But in a second you'll know my name is Fury

    Somewhere along the way, perhaps it was when the killers confessed their crimes, I began to believe that death penalty is never the answer, that it can only ever amount to an act of revenge. I came to stand by rehabilitation and due process. Of course, that is my privilege. Had it been my brother or son that had been murdered, I have no doubt that I would never have reached that conclusion.


    All of this is swimming around in my head at the moment.  I’m feeling raw and vulnerable, emotions I imagine must pale in comparison to how the family and close friends of Brett Goldin are feeling today.  Nurshad Davids has applied for parole after serving just 5 years and 5 months of his effective 12 year sentence (he received 15 years with 3 years suspended).

    Link: Outrage at Goldin killer’s parole bid [IOL]

    An online petition has been set up to protest against this parole bid: SAY NO! to parole for Brett Goldin/Richard Bloom convicts.  The petition has received over 2,000 signatures so far and Richard’s father Tony is quoted as saying, “[w]e will be submitting an affidavit, objecting, and are also going to appear.”

    I am absolutely torn by all of this.  Firstly, Nurshad Davids was not charged or convicted of murder.  I don’t believe there exists, in South African law, a concept of ‘felony murder’ and even if the concept does exist, Nurshad was not charged or convicted of such a crime. He was convicted of robbery, kidnapping and possession of an unlicensed firearm and ammunition.  I believe there is a line between violent crime and murder, a line that speaks to the increased possibility of rehabilitation for the former.

    I firmly believe that if Nurshad Davids has been rehabilitated, if he has learned a trade, shown remorse, come clean off drugs and completed a recovery programme, then theoretically, it should be up to the parole board to decide whether or not to release him into society.

    The problem is that it doesn’t quite work like that in South Africa.  Nurshad Davids was shown to have gang ties to alleged Americans gang boss Igshaan "Sanie American" Davids.  It is entirely possible that he either began or continued gang activity in Drakenstein prison.  Indeed, prison time is often seen as an essential step in moving up in gangs in South Africa.

    South African prisons are notorious for a lack of resources, conditions of overcrowding, massive levels of violence and gang activity.  This leads to catastrophically low levels of rehabilitation as inmates are denied the opportunity to work, study or learn a trade.  This is a problem seen around the world but one that contributes to a 94% recidivism rate in South Africa. (See: T S Thinane thesis)

    I want to believe that at some level, we have to have faith in the legal system, otherwise what is the point? If we can’t trust the police, the courts, prisons or parole boards, then we are one step away from vigilantism and chaos. Which, incidentally, is a state many South Africans believe has already been reached.

    Most importantly, perhaps, is the general lack of faith that South Africans have in the justice system.  The perception is that the parole board is more likely to approve parole in order to relieve conditions of overcrowding in prisons than they are to ensure that Nurshad Davids is indeed rehabilitated. 

    As this struggle looks to be played out in the public sphere and more members of the public sign the petition, perhaps it is time for Davids’s lawyers to release details regarding his time in prison and the work he has done to improve his life and atone for his part in these crimes?  Emotionally, this will not convince anyone that he deserves to be paroled, but surely there are conditions that must be met from a legal point of view?

    For once, I hope that the South African justice system makes the right decision.

    Photo credit: Window of the "Starkville City Jail" uploaded by tderego on Flickr.

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