Another year older, another year wiser?
The 9th and 10th of December mark two unmissable birthdays: the 70th anniversary of The Convention for the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (Genocide Convention) and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).
The Genocide Convention is the culmination of Jewish lawyer Raphael Lemkin’s inspiring campaign for the recognition of genocide as a crime. After losing over 40 family members during the Holocaust, he combined Greek words “genos” meaning “people” and “cide” meaning “to kill”, officially coining the term. In 1948 the UN voted to recognise Lemkin’s “genocide” as the deliberate killing of a group of people on ethnicity, religious or racial grounds. All countries were advised to prevent and punish acts of genocide.
The UDHR is one of the most important milestones in human history, as for the first time, UN member states set out the fundamental human rights that were to be respected and protected by all peoples. Whilst the document is not a legally binding, its role in outlining basic civil, political, economic and cultural rights for all human beings has played a decisive role in international human rights treaties and tools worldwide.
The Genocide Convention and UDHR are inextricably linked. When human rights are deliberately disregarded, genocide is able to breed.
For those who have their human rights met, the harrowing reality that basic standards of human life are neither respected nor protected for so many may seem distant. Alarmingly, we risk becoming so complacent that we switch off to reports of human rights abuses worldwide. Yet, the number of displaced people in the world has never been higher. Everyday people are killed because of their ethnicity or religion. Countries, including our own, continue to be reluctant to speak out on genocide, in fear of damaging political and economic relationships.
We could continue for hours, acknowledging that yes, on Human Rights Day, we should all make more of an effort to ensure that human rights are not abused nor forgotten. But what about rights tomorrow? Next week? Next month? A year passes, and on Human Rights Day 2019, we again acknowledge that human rights should not be abused nor forgotten. The same story goes for marking the Genocide Convention, our commitment to “never again” continues to be genocide, “yet again.”
This week STAND UK was privileged to attend the Young People’s Responses to the 70th Anniversary of the Genocide Convention at the Houses of Parliament. Joined by five secondary schools from around the UK- Abraham Moss Community School, Hampton School, Newport Girls’ High School and Pimlico Academy- students from Year 7 upto Sixth Form demonstrated an incredible empathy, knowledge and resilience to genocide as well as the UK’s role in genocide prevention. A wake up call that this so-called “snowflake generation” are anything but less resilient and too emotionally vulnerable. Evidencing their pertinent knowledge about the history, causes and effects of genocide both orally and in newspaper format, students told to Stephen Twigg MP, the Shadow Secretary of State for Education, Angela Rayner, and two Baronesses that the UK was not doing enough to prevent genocide.Their response: genocide is grossly underrepresented in Parliament.
The general consensus concluded that the school curriculum failed to address genocide and that the lack of knowledge surrounding the topic meant that there was not a sufficient number of young people wanting to campaign for better genocide prevention. Stark statistics from one school highlighted only 32% of students were able to list another genocide apart from the Holocaust. For many students, genocide and The Holocaust are more than just history topics and should be taught in a multidisciplinary approach, for example be topic of discussion in PSHE. One student noted that it was only by having the knowledge about genocide and knowing what to do with that information could we as young people advocate for change. Insightful commentary for a pupil of under 18.
Former Rwandan Footballer, Tutsi and genocide survivor, Eric Eugene Murangwa MBE, closed the event beautifully. For him, it seemed impossible to on the one hand uphold promises of never again whilst simultaneously allowing 800 people- including 5 Rwandan suspected of mass atrocity crimes- to live freely in the UK. We at STAND UK couldn’t agree more.
On such important anniversaries, it’s time to turn to the young and reflect how we can uphold, improve and expand the values both the Genocide Convention and UDHR committed to 70 years ago.
This blog post was written by Lily Pryer, Communications Coordinator. Lily is in her final year at the University of York studying French and History and is hoping to work in the charity sector following graduation.