By Shauna LEVEN, director at Rene Cassin.
Holocaust Memorial Day is a time for the Jewish community – and the wider community of all faiths, creeds and races – to remember the terrible and atrocious events of the Holocaust and recommit to the promise of ‘never again’ which echoed around the world in 1945.
But it is not just our Holocaust which we must remember, but also recent genocides in the Balkans, in Rwanda, and in Darfur – to name but a few.
Every time the world took notice of what was happening in these regions, public outrage followed, with people asking: how had we ignored for so long the death, destruction and devastation which was occurring so close to our own homes?
And yet, ‘again’ is happening right now.
In Sudan, thousands have been killed, with hundreds of thousands more forced to flee their homes as the mostly Arab, Muslim government pursues a two decade old policy of ethnic cleansing against the Christian black Africans in the country.
When Sudan gained independence from Great Britain in 1956, small tribes banded together into one nation. Disparate ethnicities, religions and political ideologies meant that the region quickly devolved into violence and war.
Two million people were killed in the conflict, with the creation of a ‘lost generation’ of students who never had the privilege of an education due to the sustained and deliberate destruction of schools. The slave trade was rife, with men, women and children stolen from their homes to be forced into backbreaking labour.
It was only with the Comprehensive Peace Agreement of 2005 that a semblance of peace came to the region – if a tentative one.
But the creation of South Sudan in 2011 left north of the border three regions which had supported the South during the civil war – the Blue Nile, Abeyei and Nuba regions. Furthermore, these areas are predominantly black African, Christians.
The Government of Sudan – led by President Omar al-Bashir – has led sustained and protracted attacks against these people, in an attempt to clear Sudan of all such ‘black plastic’. Furthermore, as the Government in Khartoum has declared these areas to be ‘no-go zones’, no international aid organisations are allowed entry.
Surely it cannot be so long since the horrific events of the Holocaust that the Jewish community can stand by idly and ignore the devastation of an entire group of people.
It was the Holocaust which spawned the term ‘genocide’ – from the Greek ‘genus’ meaning ‘race’ or ‘people’ and Latin ‘cīdere’ meaning ‘to kill’. “Genocide” was first used in 1945, and soon after defined in the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide as ‘acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group’.
Significantly, this means that once it has been determined by a party state that a genocide has been committed, there is a duty to act. Because of this, states have an incentive to avoid use of the term so as to avoid the duty to intervene.
René Cassin, the Jewish human rights organisation, wants the UK to stop relying on semantics in an effort to avoid its international legal obligation to take action to stop the killing in Sudan.
Together with Baroness Caroline Cox and the Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust, René Cassin is calling on the Jewish and wider community to use the month of April, which is Genocide Prevention Month, to pressure the government to acknowledge that the acts occurring in Sudan constitute genocide, thus triggering its obligations under the Genocide Convention to stop the killing.
We are also calling on the UK government to use its newly obtained seat on the UN Human Rights Council to insist that the Sudanese government allow humanitarian aid such as food and first aid to the region.