Indonesia, a Dutch colony until 1948, was hit by a wave of violence between October 1965 and March 1966. The mass murder of the communists was never processed and the perpetrators were never punished. Today, they are still celebrated as heroes.
Photo: www.pixabay.com/Creative Commons
Before we go a little bit deeper into this difficult topic, I would like to say briefly that this post can only address the subject superficially here. I am a) not a trained psychologist, b) even the brightest scientists have not yet found a clear answer to this question, and c) it would simply go beyond the scope of a blogpost.
Furthermore, I would like to mention that murder can never be accepted and that there is no excuse for mass murder, no matter what explanations are listed. Mankind always has the opportunity to choose, to think rationally and to reflect on its actions, because that is what distinguishes us from animals.
Foto: Thomas Matthias
Much criticism has been levelled at the definition of genocide since the Convention was ratified, particularly with regard to the restrictive definition of victim groups. For example, by definition, the murder of social, cultural and political groups is not a crime of genocide. Many social and political scientists have therefore created different terms to describe the mass murder of different groups.
Genocide is a highly controversial word. Why? It is more than just a concept or a tool for historical, political or moral analysis. Rather, it has legal consequences and is therefore treated like Pandora’s Box. In order to get rid of these legal consequences, the term “ethnic cleansing” is often used, which in turn is an inhuman euphemism as it is a term to speak of systematic mass murder without having to use the word genocide. “Ethnic cleansing” is present in some UN documents, but has neither a clear and formal definition nor a legal status.
Concentration Camp in Sachsenhausen, Germany
Until 1821 Guatemala was a Spanish colony. The country experienced almost four decades of civil war between 1960 and 1996. At around 60%, the country has the largest indigenous population in the world. It is rare for the minority to rule over the majority. The gap between rich and poor, between the Ladinos and Mayans on the one hand and the former occupiers on the other, is large. The Mayas and Ladinos (a cultural rather than ethnic identity) were exploited and discriminated against by the Latinos for decades; natural disasters and the country’s poor economic situation hit them hardest.1
‘Monsters exist, but they are too few in number to be truly dangerous. More dangerous are the common men, the functionaries ready to believe and to act without asking questions.’ – Primo Levi1
As a rule, four groups are always involved in genocide: the perpetrators, the victims, the bystanders and the rescuers.
Photo: Thomas Matthias
East Timor, also called Timor Leste, is part of a small island in the Indian Ocean, surrounded by Australia and Indonesia. And if you allow yourself a short trip there by Google Maps, you first believe to have arrived in paradise with white beaches and turquoise blue water. But the small country has a terrible story to tell, because the road to independence was long and bloody.
The scientific understanding of genocide is mostly based on the Holocaust model: mass murder, concentration camps and the immediate and violent destruction of the victim group. But there is also a kind of genocide that lasts for decades or even generations. We are talking about cultural genocide. The victims are slowly and apparently imperceptibly wiped out by destroying their livelihoods, banning the practice of their culture, language and religion and depriving them of the means to feed themselves and to administer their affairs.
Photo: Survival International / starved Aché-Indian, shortly after she was captured and brought out of the forest into the ‘reserve’, Paraguay 1972
In science, especially in the field of genocide studies, there is an intense discussion as to whether the crimes committed in the course of colonialism fall under the concept of genocide. The ‘situation coloniale’ in (but not just) Africa was marked above all by massacres, deportations, oppression and forced labour, as well as the destruction of soil, livelihood and cultural and social institutions of indigenous people. The violent crimes against the Herero and Nama in German South West Africa (known as Namibia) as well as the Aborigines in Australia and the indigenous peoples in North America are mostly classified as genocide.
Picture: creative commons https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/43/Africa1898.png
In the face of today’s crises around the world, military intervention often appears to be the only solution when people are killed, tortured and terrorized. However, more often one gets the feeling that ‘the Security Council […] is no longer a guarantor for legitimacy under international law, but only for failure to render assistance’.1 But if one briefly puts aside the anger, the lack of understanding and the feeling of powerlessness, then one must ask oneself whether it is actually legally and morally justified for states to intervene in the affairs of other states. Is it okay to intervene? And are we obliged to do so?