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Photo credit: Maria Navarro Sorolla

Holocaust Memorial Day 27 January, 2024

Holocaust Memorial Day is an annual event dedicated to recalling the systematic murder of nearly six million Jewish men, women & children from across the continent of Europe, along with members from other groups including, the Roma & Sinti peoples, the disabled, the gay community, and political groups opposed to the Nazis. The day is also dedicated to recalling other officially recognised genocides that have occurred since the end of the Second World War, and reflecting both on their common characteristics, and the stages involved in their making.

Coastal Forces Veterans and Holocaust Memorial Day

Coastal Forces Veterans has marked Holocaust Memorial Day for several years and here together with this year's theme Fragility of Freedom are some previous Holocaust Memorial Days themes which have been covered

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    2024: Fragility of Freedom

    Fragility of Freedom reminds us those who are targeted for persecution have had their freedom restricted before many of them are murdered. The ten stages of genocide, as identified by Professor Gregory Stanton, shows genocide never just happens

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    2023: Ordinary People

    Ordinary People reminded us that crimes against humanity are perpetrated on ordinary people, by ordinary people, with individuals within the community actively participating in events, or standing back as passive obervers, allowing them to happen

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    2022: One Day

    One Day speaks to what survivors of the Holocaust often talk about, which is the one day in their lives when everything about their existence changed. One day can be all it takes to halt the slide into mass murder or cement the conditions that lead to it

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    2021: Be the Light

    Be the Light in the Darkness encouraged everyone to reflect on the depths humanity can sink to, but also the ways individuals and communities resisted that darkness to ‘be the light’ before, during and after genocide

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    2020: Stand Together

    Stand Together was a call on the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau to reject all modes of seeing individuals as members of groups that are not worthy of human dignity or the right to life

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    2016: Don't Stand By

    Don't Stand By was reminder if any were needed, that the mass extermination of human beings by the Nazi regime had its genesis in many small acts of persecution that acted as precursors to it. The potential for such discrimination is always with us, and requires our eternal vigilance to tackle early

European Convention on Human Rights

In tandem with the measures adopted by the newly formed United Nations, the nations of the Council of Europe (CoE) held the Congress of Europe in The Hague in May 1948. This diverse gathering included civil society, business, religious and academic groups, along with trade unions, and leading politicians of the day including Winston Churchill, François Mitterand and Konrad Adenauer.

In the centre of our movement stands the idea of a Charter of Human Rights, guarded by freedom and sustained by law.

 
Winston Churchill, (The Hague, 7th May 1948)

The ECHR was formed from this congress which proposed a list of rights to be protected that drew articles directly from the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).

The European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) was formally drafted by the Council of Europe in Strasbourg during the summer of 1949 with the United Kingdom being the first nation to ratify the convention in March 1951

Winston Churchill

Preventing Current and Future Genocide

2024 will see the 80th anniversary of D-Day, when the Allies began their campaign on the ground in mainland Europe, to help rid the continent of the scourge of Nazism. In the years following the capitualtion of the Third Reich, and the subsequent trials held at Nuremberg to reddress the crimes of some of the principal perpertrators of the Holocaust, a number of measures were enacted by newly formed international bodies in an effort to prevent all such atrocities in future.

The European Court of Human Rights

In 1949 the United Kingdom was instrumental in setting up the Court of Human Rights which sought to establish basic human rights for one and all, chiefly the rights to life and to liberty.

The United Nations

The United Nations formed in June 1945 created the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide Convention in 1948, and today the United Nations Office on Genoicide Prevention and the Responsibiity to Protect is concerned with four interconnected constructs: Genocide, Crimes Against Humanity, War Crimes and Ethnic Cleansing. Significantly, the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide declares genocide to be a crime under international law which the signaturees undertake to prevent and to punish.

Awareness of Crimes Against Humanity

What to our growing consciousness today are considered atrocities and crimes against humanity, have been commonplace throughout human history. Events such as slavery, colonisation by European countries of the continents of Africa and Asia, and settler colonialism that displaced indigenous populations throughout the world, have been added to in more recent times by events such as the Armenian Medz Yeghern (Great Crime), in which at least 664,000, and possibly as many as 1.2 million Armenian Christians living in the then Ottoman Empire (modern day Turkey), were slaughtered within an eighteen month period between spring of 1915 and autumn 1916, by groups seeking to establish an ethnic Turkish state.

Aftermath of Second World War

The Second World War created unparalleled numbers of deaths, accounting for an estimated 49,374,000+ civilian deaths in addition to the 26,047,000+ military ones. An estimated 6,000,000 Jewish men, women and children were murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators. To this figure can be added an estimated 15,884,000 civilian deaths alone from a total of some 27,000,000 casualties for the Soviet Union.

The Adoption of the Term Genocide

The term genocide derived from the Greek ‘genos’ (people, tribe or race) and the Latin ‘cide’ (killing) was coined by Polish lawyer and refugee Raphael Lemkin. As a law student in his twenties he had learned about the destruction of the Armenians, leading to his belief there should be an international law against such intentional harm perpetrated by one group on an other. Early attempts by Lemkin in the 1930s to introduce international legal safeguards for ethnic, religious, and social groups proved unsuccessful, and when the Germans invaded Poland in 1939 he fled abroad, finding asylum in the United States. In 1942 he joined the United States War Department as an analyst, and later documented Nazi atrocities in his Axis Rule in Occupied Europe (1944) in which he introduced the word genocide. Lemkin was later to work on the Nuremberg trials where he tragically learned of the deaths of forty-nine members of his own family, including his parents, at the hands of the Nazis.

Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide

Lemkin’s tireless efforts to have the crime of genocide recognised internationally culminated on 9 December 1948 when the United Nations approved the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide.

The Articles of the Convention

Article I
The Contracting Parties confirm that genocide, whether committed in time of peace or in time of war, is a crime under international law which they undertake to prevent and to punish.
Article II
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:
  1. Killing members of the group;
  2. Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
  3. Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
  4. Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
  5. Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
Article III
The following acts shall be punishable:
  1. Genocide;
  2. Conspiracy to commit genocide;
  3. Direct and public incitement to commit genocide;
  4. Attempt to commit genocide;
  5. Complicity in genocide.

Universal Declaration of Human Rights

On the day after the introduction of the Convention on Genocide, the General Assembly of the United Nations announced the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). The declaration lists thirty such rights, the first of which states “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.”

In the decades since the adoption of the convention on genocide, progress in bringing perpetrators of the crime of genocide to justice has been slow, so much so that to date only three instances of mass killings committed since the end of the Second World War have been formally recognised as genocides: these are Cambodia, Rwanda and Bosnia.

  • Bosnia Genocide

    Bosnia

    1992–1995 100,000+ killed and 2,000,000+ displaced. people detained in concentration camps, and women systematically raped. Photo: Ratko Mladić, former commander of the Bosnian Serb Army, at his trial

  • Rwanda Genocide

    Rwanda

    1994 Over the course of 100 days an estimated 800,000–1,000,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed by extremist Hutus, with an extimared 100,000–250,000 women raped during the same brutal three month period of the genocide

  • Cambodia Genocie

    Cambodia

    1977–1979 between 1.5 and 3 million people were killed at the hands of the Khmer Rouge as they attempted to institute a classless, agrarian society. The genocide targeted Christian and Buddhist groups, as well as the Muslim Cham of whom nearly 70% were exterminated

The Palestinians of the Gaza Strip

According to the Ministry of Health in Gaza as of 19 February, 2024, at least 29,092 Palestinians have been killed in the Gaza Strip since 7 October, 2023, and the attack by Hamas in which 1,139 Israeli civilians, members of the security forces, and foreigners were killed, including 36 children. Around 70% of Palestinians killed are reported to be women and children, with children accounting for some 11,500+ deaths to date. A further 69,028 Palestinians have been reported injured, including 1000+ children who have had one or both legs amputated. 17,000 children are classed as unaccompanied or separated from their parents.

In addition, nearly 1.7 million displaced people are now sheltering across emergency shelters (UNRWA and public shelters), informal sites or in close vicinity to UNRWA shelters and distribution sites and within host communities, whilst some 70,000+ housing units have been destroyed, and a further 290,000+ damaged.

2,200,000 are now at risk of famine, with 378,000 at Phase 5 which aid agencies consider to be catastrophic risk, and a further 939,000 at Phase 4, which is considered an emergency.

Amid growing concerns for the safety of Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip, South Africa has successsfully brought a case against the state of Israel in the International Court of Justice in the Hague.

In the light of concerns raised by South Africa, regarding possible breaches by the Israeli state of their obligations under international law, including potential genocidal comments made by Israeli state officials, some of which are reproduced below, and by an Order dated 26 January 2024, the International Court of Justice has indicated provisional measures in the case concerning Application of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide in the Gaza Strip (South Africa v. Israel)

Nakba? Expel them all…If the Egyptians care so much for them - they are welcome to have them wrapped in cellophane tied with a green ribbon

Nissim Vaturi – deputy speaker for Israel’s parliament

There should be two goals for this victory: One, there is no more Muslim land in the land of Israel… After we make it the land of Israel, Gaza should be left as a monument, like Sodom

Amit Halevi – Likud member in parliament,

There is one and only (one) solution, which is to completely destroy Gaza before invading it. I mean destruction like what happened in Dresden and Hiroshima, without nuclear weapons…Gaza should be razed and Israel’s rule should be restored to the place. This is our country

Moshe Feiglin, the founder of Israel's Zehut Party

We are fighting human animals, and we are acting accordingly…We will eliminate everything - they will regret it

Yoav Gallant – Defence Minister

It’s an entire nation out there that is responsible. It’s not true this rhetoric about civilians not aware not involved. It’s absolutely not true…and we will fight until we break their backbone

Isaac Herzog – President of Israel

…imposing a complete siege on Gaza. No electricity, no food, no water, no fuel. Everything is closed.

Yoav Gallant – Israeli Minister of Defence

There will be no Arabs in the Gaza strip. They will go to Turkey, to Scotland, to Britain…we'll use different methods. One of them is not to give them any humanitarian aid.

Daniella Weiss – Leader of Israeli Settlement Movement