Today is International Human Rights Day, a day to commemorate the establishment of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the first global enunciation of human rights enacted by the United Nation’s General Assembly in 1948. If you aren’t familiar with UDHR, you can read it here (in multiple languages).
Today we remember those living and breathing on the front lines of human rights work, at home and abroad!
Today we remember victims and survivors of political, religious, ethnic, gender and all other oppressions!
Today we recognize that there is much work left to be done!
Over the summer I saw Worse than War, a documentary by Daniel Goldhagen, Professor of Political Science at Harvard University. You may know him from his highly controversial book Hitler’s Willing Executions, in which he argues that the culpability of Nazi genocide extended far beyond the Nazi elite and their most loyal foot-soldiers. Every-day Germans were equally complicit in the atrocities committed against European Jews, Gypsies, the physically disabled, etc. More than 8 million people were systematically exterminated in a little under 4 years.
I think this can be applied on a wider scale – to the Turkish genocide of Armenian minorities after World War I, to Rwanda and Bosnia in the 1990s, to the Guatemalan genocide against the indigenous Mayans, Leopold II in the Congo, the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, the Chinese in Tibet in 1949, Iran and Iraq’s policies against the Kurds,….shall I go on?
More than 200 million innocent people have been murdered by genocide in the 20th Century. That’s more deaths by genocide than the combined deaths of all the combat wars fought during that time around the world. There has never been a time during past century when there hasn’t been genocide somewhere on the planet.
…and the world watched. The world didn’t intervene until thousands (sometimes millions) were already burdened. Sometimes the world never intervened at all. I think we (including me) are all complicit to some extend if you watch and do nothing.
In Worse than War Goldhagen goes to the many corners of the world where some of the worst human right atrocities were committed. In addition to providing a roadmap to what genocide looks like, recognizing that each incident while different, shares certain characteristcs that transcend the ways in which they differed from one another
One of the interviewees (I believe the current Minister of Justice of Rwanda) stated that you can see genocide coming from miles away. Goldhagen reframes this in a latter segment,
Leaders choose to initiate genocide…
People choose to participate in genocide…
People with power to stop genocide, choose to do nothing…
The more we know about how and why genocides happen, the more we can get political leaders and ordinary people to make different choices.
Daniel Goldhagen, Worse than War (PBS Documentary)
author of Hitler’s Willing Executioners
Until we recognizes and demand the individual and collective benefit of intervening in international situations that raise red flags of genocide to come, and holding our governments accountable to preventing future genocides from being perpetrated, we will continue to live in a world where millions are murdered. As long as instigators of genocide aren’t held accountable for their actions by the international community, genocide will continually surface in every corner of the world.