A leadership role for France

Irwin Cotler urges Sarkozy to lead fight against genocidal incitement.

sarkozy 224.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
sarkozy 224.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
The enduring lesson of the Holocaust - as French President Sarkozy well knows - and that of the genocides in the Balkans and Rwanda is that they occurred not simply because of the machinery of death, but because of the state-sanctioned incitement to hatred. This teaching of contempt - this demonizing of the other - is where it all begins. As the Supreme Court of Canada put it, "The Holocaust did not begin in the gas chambers; it began with words." The court added, in words echoed both in the courts of France and in the international criminal tribunals for former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, that these are "the catastrophic effects of racism" - the chilling facts of history. It is this understanding of the lessons of history by French President Sarkozy - and the appreciation of the companion lesson of the dangers of indifference and inaction in the face of genocide by French Foreign Minister Kouchner, one of the first to advocate for the imperative of intervention - that would invite France to undertake a leadership role in invoking the available legal remedies to combat this state-sanctioned incitement to genocide. WE HAVE been witnessing for some time a state-sanctioned incitement to genocide whose epicenter is Ahmadinejad's Iran. I distinguish Ahmadinejad's Iran from the peoples of Iran who are themselves increasingly the target of the Iranian regime's massive repression of human rights. Today, in Ahmadinejad's Iran, one finds the toxic convergence of the advocacy of the most horrific of crimes, namely genocide, embedded in the most virulent of hatreds, namely anti-Semitism. It is dramatized by the parading in the streets of Teheran of a Shihab-3 missile draped in the words "Wipe Israel off the map" while the assembled thousands are exhorted to chants of "Death to Israel" - a standing incitement ever present on his Web site. Moreover, Ahmadinejad's Iran is increasingly resorting to incendiary and demonizing language, including epidemiological metaphors reminiscent of Nazi incitement. He characterizes Israel as "filthy bacteria," and "a cancerous tumor that needs to be excised," refers to Jews as "evil incarnate" and the "defilers of Islam" - the whole as prologue to, and justification for, a Mid-East genocide, while at the same time denying the Nazi one. CALLS BY the most senior figures in the Iranian leadership for the destruction of Israel are frighteningly reminiscent of calls for the Rwandan extermination of Tutsis by the Hutu leadership. The crucial difference is that the Hutus were equipped with machetes, while Iran, in defiance of the world community, continues its pursuit of the most destructive of weaponry - nuclear arms. Iran has already succeeded in developing a long-range missile delivery system for that purpose, which former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani said could "eliminate Israel in one single storm." The failure to stop past genocides, as in the unspeakable, preventable genocide of Rwanda, caused the then-UN secretary general Kofi Annan to lament in 2004 on the 10th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide: "We must never forget our collective failure to protect at least 800,000 defenseless men, women and children who perished in Rwanda 10 years ago. "Such crimes cannot be reversed. Such failures cannot be repaired. The dead cannot be brought back to life. So, what can we do?" THE ANSWER, as President Sarkozy and Foreign Minister Kouchner appear to understand, is for the international community to pay heed to the precursors of genocide, and to act now as mandated under the Genocide Convention, which prohibits the "direct and public incitement to genocide." Indeed, as one involved as minister of justice in Canada for prosecution of Rwandan incitement, the aggregate of precursors of incitement in the Iranian case are more threatening than were those in the Rwandan one. What is so often ignored is that state parties to the Genocide Convention, such as France or Canada, have not only a right, but a responsibility, to enforce the convention, particularly to prevent genocide. Indeed, the Genocide Convention itself, together with international legal instruments such as the Treaty for an International Criminal Court - of which France and Canada are state parties - and the UN Charter, authorize a panoply of international juridical remedies, including the following: • State parties should refer the criminal incitement to genocide by Ahmadinejad and other Iranian leaders to the appropriate UN agencies. It is astonishing that this criminal incitement has yet to be addressed by the UN Security Council, the UN General Assembly, or any other body of the UN, though it found fit to give Ahmadinejad a podium. • The situation of genocidal incitement by Ahmadinejad and other Iranian leaders - including their complicity in crimes against humanity - should be referred by the UN Security Council to the Special Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court for investigation and prospective prosecution. • State parties should initiate an inter-state complaint against Iran before the International Court of Justice for its "direct and public incitement to genocide" in violation of the Genocide Convention, to which Iran is also a state party. • States should prepare criminal indictments of Ahmadinejad and other Iranian leaders on the basis of the "universal jurisdiction" principle, which becomes actionable when Ahmadinejad sets foot on their territory. • France should call upon the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to refer Ahmadinejad's genocidal incitement to the UN Security Council as a matter threatening international peace and security, pursuant to Article 99 of the UN Charter. • Ahmadinejad and other designated Iranian leaders should be placed on a watchlist by concerned countries, preventing their entrance as "inadmissible persons." If it is argued that no precedent exists for excluding a sitting president, it should be recalled that then-Austrian president Kurt Waldheim was placed on the US watchlist for his participation in the persecution of civilian populations during World War II. IT IS time to initiate one or more of the above options, which might also embolden progressive forces within Iran, while holding the responsible individuals accountable. Indeed, recent history has taught us that sustained international juridical remedies can bring about the indictment of seemingly immune dictators, such as Slobodan Milosevic and Augusto Pinochet, and such actions are clearly preferable to military options. This is an opportunity for countries such as France to exercise leadership. The juridical remedies exist, but the leadership has thus far been wanting. President Sarkozy and Foreign Minister Kouchner - and others who might join them - can now fill that void. The writer is the member of parliament for Mount Royal and the former minister of justice and attorney general of Canada. He is a professor of law (on leave) at McGill University and has written extensively on - and prosecuted for - incitement to genocide.