Al-Ahram Weekly   Al-Ahram Weekly
2 - 8 December 1999
Issue No. 458
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875 Issues navigation Current Issue Previous Issue Back Issues

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A mandate of genocide

By Jean Allain *

Edward Said, delivering the prestigious BBC Reich Lectures in 1993, spoke of the role intellectuals should play in society. In part, he said that those who trade in the pursuit of knowledge and the control information are duty-bound to "speak the truth to power".

In the case of the on-going assault on the people of Iraq, which will soon enter its ninth year, I believe that knowing and not speaking out is tantamount to collaboration. As an academic, I find myself in a position of privilege, given the liberty to study, to examine, and to consider the ebb and flow of international relations. Do I not, like others, have a responsibility not only to speak the truth to power, but to speak out publicly in the face of mass murder?

Early this year, Edward Said, among other noted American intellectuals, spoke out against United Nations sanctions imposed on Iraq. In a call to action against the UN sanctions, the group wrote: "If we remain silent, we are condoning a genocide that is being perpetrated in the name of peace in the Middle East, a mass slaughter that is being perpetrated in our name." I now find myself speaking out, embarrassed by the fact that I have not done so earlier, but confident in my convictions. I therefore accuse the United Nations of aiding and abetting the United States and the United Kingdom of perpetuating genocide in Iraq.

In 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait, and was later repulsed by allied forces given a mandate by the UN Security Council. The Iraqi invasion was a blatant act of aggression, triggering a proper response: the inherent right of Kuwait to call on others to repel an invasion by recourse to collective self-defense. The Iraqi regime had clearly committed an international crime. Among the most heinous of international crimes perpetuated by the current Iraqi regime, we must also count the use of chemical weapons, both in its war against Iran and later in putting down uprisings and consolidating its power in the wake of its crushing defeat at the hands of the US-led coalition. These acts, among others, classify the Iraqi regime - using the parlance of the national security apparatus of the United States - as a "rogue" state: one that is acting outside the dictates of international law.

Nevertheless, there can be no justification for perpetuating genocide in reprisal. No matter what crimes the Iraqi state committed, there is no basis - political, legal, or ethical - for other states, whether individually or collectively, to commit genocide. The 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide calls on states to consider genocide a crime under international law and to undertake to prevent it and punish those that perpetrate it. Among other things, the Convention seeks to stop those that would seek "to destroy, in whole or in part, a national group" by "deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part".

* The writer is a lecturer in public international law at the American University in Cairo.
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