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"We Need A Driving Force To Address Inaction And Impunity for Atrocity Crimes" - Ewelina Ochab

July 18, 2022
By Kyle Matthews and Marie Lamensch

This op-ed written by Dr. Ewelina Ochab is part of MIGS' Global Parliamentary Alliance Against Atrocity Crimes (GPAAAC) initiative supported by the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung Canada.

Putin's war in Ukraine shook the world, and especially, it shook Europe. European soil has not seen a crime of aggression of this sort in several decades. European soil also has not seen other atrocity crimes in a while either. Evidence of the targeting of civilians and civilian objects, the use of rape and sexual violence, abductions, and forcible displacement, including targeting of children, started circulating shortly after Putin’s act of aggression in Ukraine. As such evidence continues to be brought to light, questions in relation to genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes are being asked and so are the questions in relation to legal and other responses to the atrocities.

If Putin's war can teach us anything, as it should, is that inaction and impunity beget further crimes. Inaction in light of glaring early warning signs of atrocity crimes will materialize. There is no doubt about it. Impunity for atrocity crimes will empower the perpetrators, perpetrators of the atrocities and others who witness the lack of accountability. This is nothing new. We have seen it again and again. These are lessons that we should have learned not only from Putin's war but every atrocity crime perpetrated over decades, whether it was the Nazi atrocities, or the atrocities in Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda, Darfur, Libya, Sri Lanka, Iraq, Myanmar, China, Ethiopia, Ukraine, to name only a few. 

Unfortunately, here in Europe, our collective memory of the Nazi atrocities is fading away as the generation with last living memory is disappearing. Other atrocities perpetrated over the subsequent decades, either did not reach the same level or were too far from home to touch us the same way. 

If we have not learned the truths about inaction and impunity by now, there is very little hope for change. However, change is not impossible if we have people willing to come together and make this shift. Change in the area of atrocity crimes requires a driving force. Nothing will happen by a chance. 

To drive this change, the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies in partnership with the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung Canada are joining forces to establish the Global Parliamentary Alliance Against Atrocity Crimes (GPAAAC), an international network of parliamentarians and experts working together to identify ways for governments to be better equipped to prevent and respond to atrocity crimes. This network, including Canadian, German and other EU-member state parliamentarians, will initially focus on Ukraine and the key international challenges the crisis there poses to human rights, democracy, and the rule of law.  

The project will further work on a model for best practices for preventing and responding to future atrocity crimes. The need for this step cannot be emphasised more. Indeed, currently, only a few countries in the world have some form of mechanisms to monitor early warning signs and risk factors of atrocity crimes that can help these countries to prevent atrocity crimes despite the 2007 judgment of the International Court of Justice, in accordance with the obligations under the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, which states ‘a State’s obligation to prevent, and the corresponding duty to act, arise at the instant that the State learns of, or should normally have learned of, the existence of a serious risk that genocide will be committed.’

If this is indeed the trigger point for the duty to prevent, one would like to see all countries monitoring the early warning signs and risk factors and identify the serious risk of genocide, and this to take ownership over their responses. Again, only a few countries do this foundational and crucial work towards prevention.

We urgently need to re-energise the international cooperation on atrocity prevention and GPAAAC could be a starting point towards such action. As the world continues to be focused on Ukraine, at least for the time being, many other situations are neglected, whether ongoing atrocity crimes, be in Myanmar, Xinjiang, China, Ethiopia, or developing situations where the risks are present, but we fail to them. We need to move away from the reactive approach taken by many states - one waits for the atrocity to be perpetrated and move towards a proactive approach - responding to early warnings signs and risk factors.

Dr. Ewelina U. Ochab is a Fellow at MIGS, a human rights advocate, author, co-founder of the Coalition for Genocide Response. Ochab works on the topic of genocide, with specific focus on the persecution of ethnic and religious minorities around the world. Follow her on Twitter at @EwelinaUO


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