Editor's Notes: A terrible silence

"The UN's 'Never Again' convention obligates it to prevent genocide, yet it hasn't so much as debated Iran's intent to eliminate the Jewish state."

david horovitz 224.88 (photo credit: )
david horovitz 224.88
(photo credit: )
The record, says Irwin Cotler, is shameful.In 1948, chastened by the abject failure of the international community to prevent Hitler's mass murder of the Jews, the United Nations adopted the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. This imposed a responsibility among the signatories to punish not only the crime of genocide but also "conspiracy to commit genocide" and "direct and public incitement to genocide." If the title was a mite unwieldy, there was an easier way to remember the law: It was, in short, the "Never Again" convention. But it has proved to be the most criminal of dead letters, and its easy-to-remember nickname the most despicable of misnomers. "On no occasion has the UN acted to prevent a genocide," says Cotler, the former Canadian minister of justice and attorney general, a generally calm man whose voice rises involuntarily at the outrageous ineptitude. "Regrettably, we've had genocide again and again," he rails. "Either action has come too late or there has been no intervention at all." Darfur, he elaborates, "is a genocide in the making. The media is still using the 2002 figure of 200,000 dead. Actually, 450,000 have already died. The media is still reporting 2.5 million displaced people. It's 4 million according to the UN's former humanitarian aid coordinator. There are mass atrocities - mass rape, forced expulsions, the bombing and burning of villages. In 2005, the UN passed a resolution banning Sudanese offensive flights. It has not been enforced. In August, the Security Council mandated the establishment of a multi-national protection force. It has not been established. "In Darfur, the world knows and it is not acting. In Rwanda, the world knew and didn't act and 800,000 people were killed." And then we come to Iran, which, incidentally, signed on to that "Never Again" convention in 1949 and ratified it in 1956. "Ahmadinejad's genocidal criminality is as clear and compelling as any I've ever seen," says Cotler, who then delivers a sentence he has plainly polished many times over, and one that is all the more powerful for it: "This is advocacy of the most horrific of crimes, genocide; embedded in the most virulent of hatreds, anti-Semitism; propelled by a publicly avowed intent to acquire nuclear weapons for that purpose, and dramatized by the parading in the streets of Teheran of Shihab-3 missiles draped in the emblem "Wipe Israel Off the Map." The remedies are ready. In the face of such blatant culpability, the worldwide purported commitment to humane values and the rule of law has provided no shortage of avenues designed to avert genocide and bring its would-be perpetrators to justice. Cotler recites them with weary familiarity: punishment via that "Never Again" convention, which enables the UN to impose all manner of sanctions on the Iranian regime; debate and action initiated personally by the UN secretary-general, who has the UN Charter-enshrined authority to refer any matter that threatens international peace and security to the Security Council; UN or state-initiated referrals to the International Court of Justice (as employed over Israel's West Bank security barrier); criminal prosecution of Ahmadinejad at the International Criminal Court; all the way down to the immediate placing of Ahmadinejad and other suspects on watch lists that would bar their entry to concerned countries. The route to genocide prevention is clearly signposted and wide open. But where is the will to follow it? COTLER IS a frequent visitor to Israel and one of the driving forces behind a group - including fellow law professor Alan Dershowitz - now bidding to galvanize legal measures against Ahmadinejad's genocidal plans for the Jewish state. He says firmly that his home nation intends to take action. "I have spoken to the Canadian foreign minister and the prime minister. They are looking to exercise one of the remedies. They said to me that they will." He has been in discussion with members of the US Senate Judiciary Committee. He has held talks with the Hungarian government, which is looking into the matter, and with the Argentineans, who just weeks ago issued arrest warrants for former Iranian president Hashemi Rafsanjani and other Iranian officials found responsible for masterminding the bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center building in Buenos Aires in 1994. And he has, he says, "high hopes that Germany" - which should, of course, know best of all about the need for action - "will either go it alone or at the helm of the European Union from January 1." He has written to the new UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, who branded Ahmadinejad's statements unacceptable on the very day he was sworn in. But what, you may ask, of Israel, the nation so explicitly and relentlessly targeted? Cotler has been meeting with the Israeli government, too. He held talks here back in September. "I don't know why Israel isn't acting," he sighs. "Israel could and should exercise some of these remedies, particularly since it is the threatened party, although international peace and security are threatened too." Presumably - though Cotler does not say this - Israel's defeatist ambivalence about invoking the mechanisms of international law is a factor. And it may be, Cotler allows, that Israel doesn't want to take the lead - doesn't want this turned into a head-to-head, wants the rest of the international community to internalize the full, wide, terrifying scale of the threat and address it. "But at the very least," he says, "Israel should be pressing other nations to act responsibly." Because the sorry, demonstrable fact is that nations don't recognize, don't even know of, their obligations. In 2004, when he was minister of justice, Cotler vouchsafes, "I can tell you that three [fellow] justice ministers in the G8 were truly unaware of the genocide-by-attrition taking place in Darfur. "People live in bubbles. We have to bring this to their attention and sound the alarm." Last June, the Iranians sent a delegation to the first meeting of the new (and obsessively Israel-bashing) UN Human Rights Council in Geneva that included a Teheran prosecutor named Saeed Mortazavi. Mortazavi has been implicated in the illegal arrest, torture and murder of Iranian-Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi. Canada asked that he be arrested. Mortazavi didn't hang around to see whether the Swiss would take action. He fled Geneva. "This shows what you can do if the will is there," says Cotler. Three months later, by contrast, terrorist-training, would-be Israel-eliminating Mahmoud Ahmadinejad flew to the United States. No watch list entry prevented his admission. No indictment for inciting and conspiring to commit genocide awaited him. He was free to pontificate duplicitously about how to achieve "peace, tranquility and well-being for all" in a world beset by "military domination… and the spread of terrorism" to a rapt audience at the General Assembly of United Nations - a body ostensibly dedicated to prohibiting the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state. The irony was evidently lost on his hosts. It was probably not lost on Ahmadinejad. Iran's recent Holocaust denial shindig prompted vast waves of outraged spluttering. Cotler isn't complaining. But why, he wonders, when so much concern is rightly directed at the misrepresentation of a past genocide, is so little devoted to preventing a new one? Neither the United Nations Security Council, nor the General Assembly, he notes, has ever so much as debated the Iranian president's avowed intent to destroy the Jewish state. Ahmadinejad has laughed off his UN hosts' belated, anemic anti-nuclear sanctions package, swaggering that nothing and nobody is going to stop Iran's power drive. Why would he think any differently, when "never again" has become an empty slogan?