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Friday, January 25, 2008

Never again?

GHRD attended an international conference in Krakow, Poland last week; FLARE – Freedom Legality and Rights in Europe. FLARE is a European network of more than 40 civil society organisations with the aim to promote legality and human rights in Europe. It was an interesting (and hectic) week and I enjoyed the workshops and in particular to discuss human rights with representatives from Italy, Romania, Serbia, Moldova, Russia, Ukraine, Poland, …

But it is the visit to the concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau that I remember the most. It was a horrific day in every sense. I thought I was prepared. After all, I deal with cases of gang rape, torture and murder on a daily basis at work. And I specialised in genocide at university. I have studied the holocaust in every detail; seen the photos, films, read the books of survivors, and experts; I even analysed the toilet system in the camps (!). But to walk for hours through this death camp, created by humans with the sole intention of exterminating others, where over one million human beings lost their lives in the most dehumanising way, gave rise to feelings that no books could ever convey. I felt sad, helpless, empty, angry, disillusioned; the importance of keeping Auschwitz as a painful memory felt stronger than ever. Indeed we must remember, and the words never again must never silence.

But it did happen again. And it happened before. Again and again and right now.

The Holocaust was unfortunately neither the first nor the last moment in history where one group organised, planned and executed the killings of another group, with intent to destroy, in whole or in part. Indigenous peoples were extincted with genocidal intent as soon as Europeans ‘discovered’ their continents over 600 years ago. Genocides took place in Bangladesh, Ottoman Empire (Armenian genocide), East Timor, Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia- Herzegovina, and Sudan, to name a few.

A genocide does not take place overnight – it requires structure and planning. Major genocide characteristics are: the division of people between ‘us and them’, hate speeches, dehumanisation, propaganda, targeting of a specific group because of their ethnic/religious identity, which finally leads to the extermination of this group.

The development in some South Asian countries such as Bangladesh, Jammu/Kashmir, Malaysia, and Pakistan is not too far away from this description. Now it is up to us to decide if again will ever turn into never.

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