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Mass killing is not the only act of genocide
Putin and Xi may not be herding people into gas chambers, but they're guilty of the same crimes as Hitler and Stalin
LIKE many who write about Nazi Germany and the Second World War, I bridle when contemporary political leaders are too readily compared to Hitler or Stalin. But when it comes to Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping – who are currently meeting in Moscow – then such comparisons are valid, because both men, like Hitler and Stalin, have committed, and are continuing to commit, acts of genocide.
Although most sentient people would recognise that Putin and Xi are nasty bits of work, it seems that relatively few are willing to label the two men as exactly what that they are – genocidaires.
Why is this?
I suspect the reason is because most think that genocide must involve mass killings. Images from Auschwitz, Rwanda, and Srebrenica loom large – as well they should – but they hinder a widespread appreciation of exactly what constitutes genocide.
For that, you need look no further than the UN’s Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, which came into force in January 1951. Over 150 states are party to the Convention – including, it should be stressed, both Russia and China.
It is in Article II that you get the definition of what precisely constitutes this most horrific of crimes:
In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:
(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
If you look at what Putin is doing in Ukraine, then he is certainly guilty of at least four of these genocidal acts – there is no evidence that I know of that suggests that the Russian leader is guilty of (d) – and indeed he has just been issued an arrest warrant by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for bearing ‘criminal responsibility for the unlawful deportation and transfer of Ukrainian children from occupied areas of Ukraine to the Russian Federation’.
Of course, Putin would say that even if he were guilty of any of these acts, they were not committed with an intent to destroy a national group, but were in fact acts of war and self-defence and not genocide. This would be rich coming from a man who denies that Ukraine is a real state, and wrote that the ‘true sovereignty of Ukraine is possible only in partnership with Russia’.
There is no doubt that Putin’s actions in Ukraine are a textbook example of genocide as defined under Article II, as he undoubtedly wishes to destroy a national group.
Similarly, Xi Jinping, with his treatment of the Uyghur people, is also committing genocide, and in January 2021, Mike Pompeo, the US Secretary of State, declared as much:
These crimes are ongoing and include: the arbitrary imprisonment or other severe deprivation of physical liberty of more than one million civilians, forced sterilization, torture of a large number of those arbitrarily detained, forced labor, and the imposition of draconian restrictions on freedom of religion or belief, freedom of expression, and freedom of movement […] I have determined that the PRC, under the direction and control of the CCP, has committed genocide against the predominantly Muslim Uyghurs and other ethnic and religious minority groups in Xinjiang. I believe this genocide is ongoing, and that we are witnessing the systematic attempt to destroy Uyghurs by the Chinese party-state.
In April that year, the House of Commons agreed with him, and approved a motion that stated:
That this House believes that Uighurs and other ethnic and religious minorities in the Xinjiang Uighur autonomous region are suffering crimes against humanity and genocide…
It should be stressed that just because the US Secretary State, or the House of Commons – or indeed a prosecutor at the ICC – says that someone has committed genocide, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they have. But with the overwhelming weight of evidence as to what is happening in Ukraine and with the Uyghurs, to insist that people are innocent until proven guilty basically makes you look like a Putin or Xi apologist.
Let’s be honest, and accept the appalling truth that two fifths of the permanent members of the UN Security Council are headed by men who are currently committing genocide. (I’m going to leave aside that the current president of the Council is Mozambique, the government of which is accused of using death squads.)
For the life of me, I really can’t see the difference between having Putin and Xi sitting on the Council and having Hitler and Stalin on it. But as I say, I do bridle at people who make these comparisons.
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