War Crimes, Genocide, and Justice

by David M. Crowe

164In this sweeping, definitive work, leading human rights scholar David M. Crowe offers an unflinching look at the long and troubled history of genocide and war crimes. From atrocities in the ancient world to more recent horrors in Nazi Germany, Cambodia, and Rwanda, Crowe reveals not only the disturbing consistency they have shown over time, but also the often heroic efforts that nations and individuals have made to break seemingly intractable patterns of violence and retribution – in particular, the struggle to create a universally accepted body of international humanitarian law. He traces the emergence of the idea of ‘just war,’ early laws of war, the first Geneva Conventions, the Hague peace conferences, and the efforts following World Wars I and II to bring to justice those who violated international law.

 

He also provides incisive accounts of some of the darkest episodes in recent world history, covering violations of human rights law in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Cambodia, Guatemala, the Iran-Iraq war, Korea, Tibet, and many other contexts. With valuable insights into some of the most vexing issues of today – including controversial US efforts to bring alleged terrorists to justice at Guantánamo Bay, and the challenges facing the International Criminal Court – this is an essential work for understanding humankind’s long and often troubled history.

161Standing on Polish soil is to stand upon the fertile ground of memory. Poles see themselves as a people who have struggled to maintain their national identity amidst occupation and oppression. The Polish past is negotiated on a daily basis between the generations of Poles who lived (or grew up) during World War II, those who lived during the Soviet regime, and those who have come of age after the fall of Communism. All three of these groups have grown up with the narrative of Poles as rescuers, resisters and martyrs. This idea was shaped during the Soviet years and reinforced through Polish popular culture.

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Last week CHGS and several other centers and departments at the University of Minnesota voiced their concern and condemnation regarding a Nazi-themed dinner that took place in the Minneapolis restaurant Gasthof zur Gemütlichkeit. The Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas (JCRC) and the Minnesota Rabbinical Association (MRA), also responded to this disturbing event and sent a public letter to the restaurant’s owner.

The news and photographs of the gathering – Nazi flags and men clad in SS and Wehrmacht uniforms – were shocking. But even more worrying was to discover how many people, who posted their comments on the Star Tribune website or emailed and voice-mailed the Center, were ready to defend the Nazi re-enactors and the restaurant that hosted the party. Their response reveals an astounding lack of common sense and a failure to understand the gravity of the case.

How “innocent” was this re-enactment? Were the participants and the restaurant owner really unaware of the implications and effects of the symbols they were displaying? One hopes that all of Gasthof’s cards will soon be on the table.

Alejandro Baer is the Stephen Feinstein Chair and Director of the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies. He joined the University of Minnesota in 2012 and is an Associate Professor of Sociology. 

You are not obliged to complete the work, but you are not free to desist from it either.

Rabbi Tarfon (from the Talmud)

On February 6, as part of the IAS Collaborative Reframing Mass Violence lecture series, CHGS partnered with the Human Rights Program and the Film Society of Minneapolis/St. Paul for a screening of the documentary film Granito: How to Nail a Dictator  A discussion with its director, Pamela Yates, and producer, Paco de Onís followed.  Granito tells a breathtaking story of courage and perseverance in the pursuit of justice that uniquely embodies the quote above from the Talmud.

The film spans thirty years as five protagonists in Guatemala, Spain, and the United States attempt to bring truth, memory, and justice to the violence-plagued Central American country. A US filmmaker, a forensic anthropologist, a Spanish lawyer, a Maya survivor, and a Guatemalan witness activist each become a “granito,” a tiny grain of sand, adding up to an extraordinary accomplishment three decades after the atrocities: the indictment and trial of ex-dictator General Ríos Montt, former de facto president and responsible for a genocidal campaign that killed thousands of indigenous Guatemalans during the bloodiest phase of a war against the leftist guerrillas in 1982-1983. On May 10, 2013, Ríos Montt was convicted of genocide and crimes against humanity. It was the first time a former head of state had been found guilty of genocide by a court in his own country.

The last chapter of this Guatemalan story is yet to be written. Only ten days after the ruling, the Constitutional Court of Guatemala overturned the conviction under pressure from an organization representing the country’s deeply reactionary oligarchy.

Still, the judgment marked a turning point in Guatemalan history, and it has also become part of the history of human rights. It sends a clear message to other parts of the world where present or former perpetrators still live in freedom and privilege despite proven involvement in atrocious crimes. It also teaches an important lesson: As a collective effort, step by step or “grain by grain,” even in Guatemala-one of the most profoundly unjust societies in the Americas-justice can be achieved.

Alejandro Baer is the Stephen C. Feinstein Chair and Director of the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies.

 

Genocide: A Reader

By Jens Meierhenrich

148Genocide is a phenomenon that continues to confound scholars, practitioners, and general readers. Notwithstanding the carnage of the twentieth century, our understanding of genocide remains partial. Disciplinary boundaries have inhibited integrative studies and popular, moralizing accounts have hindered comprehension by advancing simple truths in an area where none are to be had.

Genocide: A Reader lays the foundations for an improved understanding of genocide. With the help of 150 essential contributions, Jens Meierhenrich provides a unique introduction to the myriad dimensions of genocide and to the breadth and range of critical thinking that exists concerning it. This innovative anthology offers genre-defining as well as genre-bending selections from diverse disciplines in law, the social sciences, and the humanities as well as from other fields. A wide-ranging introductory chapter on the study and history of genocide accompanies the carefully curated and annotated collection.

147In the past month two significant events occurred in two of Africa’s on-going conflicts. The National Transitional council members in Central Africa Republic elected former Bangui (the nation’s capital) mayor, Catherine Samba-Panza as its new interim president and South Sudan signed a ceasefire between Kiir and Machar. Kiir is the president of South Sudan and Machar is his immediate former vice-president and the de facto rebel leader.

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Commemorating the Holocaust: The Dilemmas of Remembrance in France and Italy

by Rebecca Clifford

144Commemorating the Holocaust: The Dilemmas of Remembrance in France and Italy reveals how and why the Holocaust came to play a prominent role in French and Italian political culture in the period after the end of the Cold War. By charting the development of official, national Holocaust commemorations in France and Italy, Rebecca Clifford explains why the wartime persecution of Jews, a topic ignored or marginalized in political discourse through much of the Cold War period, came to be a subject of intense and often controversial debate in the 1990s and 2000s.
How and why were official Holocaust commemorations created? Why did the drive for states to “remember” their roles in the persecution of Jewish populations accelerate only after the collapse of the Cold War? Who pressed for these commemorations, and what motivated their activism? To what extent was the discourse surrounding national Holocaust commemorations really about the genocide at all?

Commemorating the Holocaust explores these key questions, challenging commonly-held assumptions about the origins of and players involved in the creation of Holocaust memorial days. Clifford draws conclusions that shed light both on the state of Holocaust memory in France and Italy, and more broadly on the collective memory of World War II in contemporary Europe.

137Noemi Schory, a documentary film director and producer, was the Schusterman Visiting Artist in Residence at the Center for Jewish Studies 2013 Fall Semester. Schory taught The Holocaust in Film: Recent Israeli and German Documentaries Compared and spoke at various film screenings and events on campus and in the community. Schory produced the award-winning documentary film “A Film Unfinished” about the Warsaw ghetto in Poland, which was screened by CHGS on November 12th, 2013 at the St. Anthony Main Theatre.

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After concerted efforts by the Economic Community of Central African States, Prime Minister Djotodia, stepped down last week following a two-day summit in Chad. This concluded the shuttle diplomacy by Ambassador Power and concerted efforts by Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to raise awareness of what was happening in CAR. His replacement, Mr. Alexandre-Ferdinand Nguendet is the former speaker of parliament and upon his ascension to office has claimed that violence has largely subsided. more...

It is with great sadness that the Center for Holocaust and Genocide announces the passing of Gus Gutman. We recently had the pleasure of working with Gus on the “Portraying Memories” project with artist Felix de la Concha. Gus was an enthusiastic participant, turning what is typically a 2-4 hour session into a daylong adventure involving a trip to the Shalom Home, where he introduced Felix to his good friend Walter Schwartz, so he could participate as well.

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