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José María Pérez Gay | 15.08.2004 17:29 | Analysis | Social Struggles | London

While scholars debate the legal definition of genocide and governments look the other way, thousands of civilians around the world succumb to the armies of hate. What do we need to know in order to take action and stop the slaughter of innocents?

At the beginning of 1987, German historians launched one of the most important and powerful postwar debates, called the German Historians’ Controversy (Historikerstreit). Over six months, scholars debated whether the Nazi Holocaust should be considered a unique historical phenomenon or could be compared with other events. This controversy gathered the best historians of the time, including Ernst Nolte, Reinhardt Koselleck and Jörn Rüsen on one side, and philosophers such as Jürgen Habermas and Peter Sloterdijk on the other. The discussion was centered on the singularity of Nazism, its similarity with Stalinism and on the definition of genocide. The Holocaust was an event that left us horrified, because of its savagery and grossness, outside the bounds of human understanding: an apocalyptic, collective, heinous crime committed against six million people because they were Jewish, many of them children and elderly.
In Mass Atrocity, Collective Memory and the Law, Mark Osiel mentions the benefit the collective memory gains by recalling and publishing the great criminal trials of the twentieth century in Nuremberg, Tokyo and France. Osiel posits the legal definition of massive crimes, outlining the agreement between moral and legal judgment. Such evaluation implicates the State of crimes against individuals. “Instead of safeguarding the security of those who live in the territory of its jurisdiction, the State decides to exterminate a segment of its population." The subject of his work –the tribunal proceedings first, the moral interpretation second– is the "massive atrocities" or "administrative massacres," expressions which attempt to neutralize the meaning of Shoah, "extermination" in Hebrew, and Holocaust, or "sacrifice" as Western authors called it. It is a term which coarse precision presumably suffices to palliate the crimes of State executed by regimes as diverse as the Nazi, the Japanese military and the French collaborators in Vichy.
Osiel discusses the civic education of collective memory. His argument stems from the objections to the court’s pretension to pronounce a verdict that would be unfailing, and therefore exemplary, in spite of the extraordinary character of the imputations as well as the development of the process. Jürgen Habermas, for example, has juxtaposed the penal, technical and legal aspect of the problem against the historical, political and moral dimension of collective memory. "The statutory provision rests in the principle of individual culpability; the judges limit their inquiry to a small number of players at the cupola of the State, and to the realm where they can exert their criminal acts." According to Osiel, historians should not be bound by such demarcation; they would have to extend their scrutiny to include a greater number of actors, revealing the agents of the second tier, as Osiel calls them, the bystanders, as well as the survivors of the muted and exterminated populations: the victims. If the criminal process only recognizes individual protagonists, the historical investigation –Osiel asserts– identifies the characters with the masses, movements and anonymous forces. "It is rather remarkable", Osiel writes, "that the attorneys of the accused systematically avoid, to the benefit of their clients, the expansion of the inquest scope, whether in regards to the commission of massive events or in regards to individual initiative and undertakings."
"Criminal trials are acts of political justice which only aim is to establish a strict account of the alleged facts by means of the definitive character of the sentence," Osiel states. The judges know that what matters is not the punishment, but to pronounce the word justice. Yet the word closes the debate; it "ends" the controversy. The defense will decry the peril associated to the idea of the "official version," and even of the official history of the events. The facts are distorted and nobody has a “real" version of history. The task of proposing, or even imposing, a genuine narrative in support of the sentence of the people presumably accused of genocide, is considered a serious distortion. All memory is selective; therefore it is a distortion of the facts. As a result, a partial version can only be compared to an equally fragile one." At its core, Osiel’s pedagogic argument speaks in favor of the guilty,” Havermas reveals. No historian has the means to write a history that would include the version of the killers, the victims and the witnesses." Finally, Osiel does not mention the genocide in Cambodia, because the case never reached the International Criminal Court. In agreement with that logic, when the legal incrimination is nonexistent, the genocide tends to disappear.
The Conspiracy of Silence. On August 8, 1945, two days after the bombing of Hiroshima and a day before another on Nakasaki, the United States, the Soviet Union, Great Britain and France signed the London Agreement, which declares military crimes and crimes against humanity punishable by the International Criminal Court. Since the early 1980s, for instance, there is a legal necessity to qualify as genocide the crimes of the Khmer Rouge, the group of political leaders, members of the Communist Party, which ruled Cambodia between 1976 and 1979. We must not forget that many of the leaders are still alive today. Should we allow them the privilege to roam the country at will? What charges are applicable to them? Pol Pot and his accomplices are guilty, without a doubt, of military crimes: the prisoners of General Lon Nol’s Republican Army were summarily executed. A crime against humanity was committed. Entire social groups were massacred. The narrowest political divergence, real or imagined, was punished with death. The true difficulty lies in the definition of genocide. When we regard the term rigorously, we are drawn into an absurd discussion. Genocide is only applied to national, ethnic, racial and religious groups, Ben Kiernan remarks: "all of the attention goes to ethnic minorities, and ultimately the Buddhist clergy. However, even when clustered in one group, they comprise a relatively reduced amount of the victims. Also, it is adventurous to declare that the Khmer Rouge repressed minorities in particular, except for the Vietnamese after 1977, even if the Sham became a target group because of their Islamic faith." We need to remember that in the UN, during the discussions prior to the adoption of "genocide" as a crime against humanity, only the USSR, for obvious reasons, opposed the addition of "political" groups among those that qualified as subjects to the crime. Some authors try to solve the legal problem when speaking of "politicide,” which denotes a political genocide, or "sociocide". The argument is absurd. The Cambodian holocaust is a fact. In 1979, 42 percent of the children were orphans, three times more because of the death of the father, while17 percent lost both parents. In 1992, the situation was even more dramatic: among teenagers, 64 percent were orphans. These figures condemn the Khmer of genocide. They are responsible for the deaths of almost two million people.
In April of 1994, the Congress of the United States passed the Cambodian Genocide Justice Act, designed to bring to justice those responsible of the massive extermination. The Department of State created the Office of Cambodian Genocide Investigation to examine the crimes and find proof. Pol Pot died shortly after the inquiry began, when his extradition to the United States was being negotiated, suppressing the process of indicting the other criminals and, as baffling as it may sound, they were let free. In any event, the act is a remarkable precedent from the perspective of international law: it recognizes that political groups are included in the genocide of ethnic groups.
On the hazy morning of April 17th, 1975, after five years of devastating U.S. Air Force bombings and an atrocious civil war, the Khmer Rouge seized power and entered the city of Phnom Penh, capital of Cambodia. 3,500 troops, dressed in black and wearing traditional farmer karmas, marched in silence along Monivong Boulevard. The most amazing sight was the many kids carrying AK-47 Kalashnikov assault guns on their shoulders. They positioned themselves in the most strategic crossings of the city as if they knew it by heart. People went out to welcome them, but immediately retreated from the young warriors: the troopers kept silence, forbidden from speaking to the civil population. Ieng Sary and Khieu Samphan, the military leaders, driving across the city on a Jeep, gave precise orders to the platoons and disappeared on their way to the north of the capital. At 11 that morning, four commandos of the Khmer Rouge arrived at the general hospital, Preah Ket Melea; they marched through the halls and ordered the patients to get up and leave the city. The three doctors who resisted were shot in the director’s office.
That morning, an unspeakable exodus took place: thousands of injured patients evacuated the seven hospitals of Phnom Penh and in a grotesque caravan marched thorough the main streets. Men and women without arms or legs crawled the streets, blind young people and children walking with the hands on the shoulders of the handicapped, a procession of quadriplegic and mutilated soldiers trampling over each other. Then, thousands of makeshift beds paraded by slowly, leaving a wake of blood and serum; hundreds of people carrying their children in plastic bags, the wounded carrying the dead, casting them along the way. The victory of Khmer Rouge emphasized the unreal and sinister character of the repression and the extermination: the regime of Pol Pot inflicted upon the wounded its own past, its weakness and its defeats.
About 72,000 patients, wounded or ill, left Phnom Penh in less than three hours. Angkar, the Communist Party of Cambodia, ordered the immediate evacuation of the city through loudspeakers placed in the crossings and main streets. Families were allowed only one food ration and were ordered to leave their belongings and not challenge the soldier’s orders. Foreigners were requested to identify themselves, relinquish their passports to the new authorities and gather in the embassy of France. By the evening, multitudes jammed the exit routes, and as soon as they walked a few meters, thousands of families were separated forever. Amid such intense human traffic, the Angkar leadership turned to chaos. In one week, 700,000 people evacuated Phnom Penh to the agricultural communities. Along the way, Khmer Rouge conscripts executed all Cambodians who refused to leave. The firing squads shot fifty colonels, generals and their families. Wounded foreign nationals and medical patients were sent to the Thailand border.
In May 1979, after the Vietnam Army occupied Phom Pehn, Pol Pot and his troops fled to the jungle. Ieng Sary, one of its adherents, admits that the Khmer Rouge had already exterminated approximately one million people. According to David Chandler estimates, a more accurate figure would be between 1.5 and 2 million. Famine devastated most of the farming communities. National minorities like Chinese, Sham and Vietnamese, followers of prince Sihanuk, entrepreneurs, mainly Chinese and Sino-Khmer retailers, religious groups such as Buddhists, Muslims and Catholics as well as intellectuals, teachers, soldiers and supporters of Lon Nol’s government, were tortured and murdered.. Ninety seven percent of all intellectuals and ninety five percent of all physicians, journalists and university professors died in those four years. Out of 87,000 Buddhist monks, only two thousand survived the genocidal terror of the Khmer Rouge. Of the 270,000 Muslims only 40,000 survived. Of the 800,000 Chinese and Sino-Khmer, 25,000 were left alive. As a sanitary measure, they killed all terminal patients of leprosy, cancer and other diseases.
After the Vietnam War (1965-1975), the devastation in Cambodia heralds the new age of ammunition and demonstrates the complete failure of the Eurocentrist policies concerning human rights. In a way, all doctrines and ideologies play a part in the extermination of the Khmer nation. It triggers the eruption of the barbaric realm buried since World War II. In the United States, this war –the only one they have lost in history– with 60,000 dead and more than 100,000 crippled, has remained an open moral wound that hasn’t healed and has influenced following generations. The rich and powerful nations of the West have condemned all the repressions that follow popular uprisings, but, ignoring the genocide, they abandoned Cambodia, shrugged their shoulders and walked away from the millions of people in poor and "underdeveloped” countries seeking reddress. When the Soviet empire and the bipolar world order collapsed, the tragedy of Cambodia became a powerful and cautious example of the limits of eurocentrism regarding human rights. No one questioned the futility of the social and economic program of the Khmer Rouge and the cruelty implemented to carry it out; no one denounced it, dismissing Cambodians as a nation that hardly exists, as a land of savages, like Guatemalan natives. Contrary to the prevalent notions of the twenty-first century, rife with religious fanaticism and tribal idolatry, teeming of discord and tyranny, violence and extermination, Cambodia reminds us of something that is still a illusion: the obligation to preserve the sacred character of life.
It is not an exaggeration to declare, not as historical fact but as more than a simple coincidence, that all the protagonists of this account, with the impunity their leadership confers them, remain free of incrimination. With negligence or lack of interest, western governments end up moored in legal discussions and do not manage to impose penalties. How come nobody takes Pol Pot, Ieng Sary or Khieu Samphan to court with the same urgency summoned to bring Augusto Pinochet or Slodoban Milosevic to the Court at La Hague? How come nobody accuses them of genocide? They are responsible for the death of almost 2 million people. The international bureaucracies enthrone the rules of international law, yet they don’t bother explaining that contradiction. The extermination in Cambodia did not raise their concern. I do not know whether the Independent International Criminal Tribunal will soon condemn these murderers. Hopefully, because it is important to emphasize our psychological and moral defenselessness regarding the tragedy of Cambodia.
In the twenty-first century, Norodom Sihanuk, king of the Khmer, continues to travel thorough the cities, the towns and villages of Cambodia, attentive to the plight of his people and he promises them better times; but the reconciliation of the Khmer is farther than ever. The sequels of terror cannot be reduced to concepts and we can only relate to them with the pictures of a story, their name is legion. In June, 2003, Cambodia was torn by gangs of young people who sacked the ruins of Angkor and engaged in the contraband of its archeological jewels; a wave of crime and violence, fueled by the abundance of firearms, includes child prostitution in hundreds of brothels throughout the country, the uncontrollable AIDS epidemic and the personal mines that occupy their fields by hundreds of thousands. The landmines continue to mutilate and kill. There are perhaps a million handicapped people on the streets, alone or in small groups, begging for food. The armies of disabled are now the same image of their history. The political project of the Khmer Rouge, in its erroneous and most brutal form, shatters the dream of the political and social survival of Cambodia. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, each one of its villages is a furrow of misfortune and misery; its future, like always, remains an obscure interrogation.
In this rigorous sense, we can only speak of genocide when the massive extermination of a population occurs. From the perspective of a historian or a jurist, the singularity of genocide demands to put under examination the concept of singularity or otherwise, of unity, as required by the critical philosophy of history.
Ten years ago, between the 7th of April and the 15th of July 1994, the Republic of Rwanda suffered one of the most atrocious genocides of the pasts 30 years: the extermination of between eight hundred thousand and a million people. No other people have experienced, in such brief period of time, a similar genocidal terror.
The Republic of Rwanda, the country of a thousand hills, is in the center of Africa. With 7 million 232 thousand inhabitants, is no bigger than 36 thousand square kilometers. Is a neighbor to Congo, Zaire and Uganda, Tanzania and Burundi. From 1931, under the Belgian colonial mandate, every citizen must carry an obligatory identity card, a document that determines the ethnic group to whom the bearer belongs: the country is divided since then into Tutsis and Hutus. When the independence from Belgium was declared, in 1962, the popular revolution placed the Hutu leaders in command. At the beginning of 1973, Maj. Juvenal Habyarimana assaulted the government palace and executed a coup d'etat. Five years later he was elected president. At the beginning of the 1990s, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (FPR), a mostly Tutsi guerrilla, was created, and they had a few military victories over the Hutu government. The civil war became inevitable. Nevertheless, thanks to the intervention of the UN, the Rwandese government and the FPR signed the Arusha Peace Agreement.
On April 6, 1994, president Habyarimana was assassinated in the airport of Kigali, the capital of Rwanda. The following morning, the Hutu Prime Minister, Agathe Uwilingiyimana, was also murdered; one by one, the Hutu leadership was killed whilst the FPR armies advanced towards the capital. The first few scrimmages between the two communities in the hills start dividing the country. The administration remained apprehensive as the military of Gako began a systematic slaughter on the streets of Nyamata. On the hills, local authorities and the military enlisted farmers to attack Tutsis communities. The paramilitary organization Interahamwe occupied the borroughs of the capital, beginning a carnage that lasted one hundred days; they destroyed and set fire to the houses abandoned by Tutsis, they murdered any Hutus that resisted cooperating in the slaughter. Soldiers, conscripts and civilians hacked their fellow citizens with machetes as if fulfilling a civic duty. Prior to this massive extermination, Rwanda had 7 million inhabitants, ten years later only 6 million 200 thousand survive. The estimates indicate that more than a million Hutus took active part in the slaughter. On April 14, approximately five thousand Tutsis that had taken refuge in the church of Nyamara and the Sainte-Marthe maternity succumbed to machete blows. Also, fifteen thousand refugees were killed in the church of of N´tarama, about 30 kilometers from Nyamata and around the same time, raids for Tutsis in the marshes of Nyamwiza and the hills of Kayumba were coordinated; the survivors began an exodus towards the Congo. On July 15th, 500, 000 Hutu refugees crossed the Congolese border. During the following weeks, one million people arrived. On 3 October, 1994, the Security Council of the UN admitted a detailed report in which the slaughters of Rwanda were considered genocide.
No one underscored such horror better than Mexican poet Manuel José Othón:

And the shadow, advancing and advancing,
Resembles, with its harrowing surroundings,
The boundless soul, and thunderous in anguish,
Of the ones who shall die without a warning.

"In Germany, land of philosophers, the purpose of genocide was to purify the race, the self and the conscience. “In Rwanda, land of farmers,” wrote Jean Hatzfeld, "the purpose of genocide was to purify the Earth, to disinfect it of its cockroach peasants." When examined with certain impartiality, the genocide of Rwanda is a factual as well as an agricultural genocide. However, in spite of its rudimentary organization and its primitive tools, the machetes, it displays a unparalleled accomplishment. In The Shadow of Imana, the writer Véronique Tadjo, from Côte d’Ivoire, maintains that the Rwandese extermination produced a much higher yield than the Jewish and gypsy genocide, because nearly 800,000 Tutsis were massacred in twelve weeks." In 1942, at the height of the final solution (Endlösung), the Nazi regime and its efficient administration, chemical industry, army and police, equipped with very sophisticated industrial and material techniques, trucks of carbon monoxide and Zyklon B gas chambers, did not equal in any way", says Tadjo, "such magnitude of extermination, including all of Germany and the fifteen occupied countries."
The testimonies. "I am in jail because I killed four people. There was a car driving by with a loudspeaker; it said that all Hutus had to defend themselves and that there was only one enemy: the Tutsi. I heard it in the morning; I jumped out of bed, grabbed the mace, left my house and started to kill. There was an older woman who lived nearby, with two young children not old enough to go to school. They had been removed from their house and brought near a grave. A man named Sibomana had given me a mace; I killed the children and he killed the old woman. Then we went up and found an old man hiding behind a house. I snuffed him with the mace. When we left, he was agonizing. I didn’t know the people I have killed. They just told us that we had to hunt Tutsis, and we started to kill them. As for me, nobody forced to me to do it. It’s something that got in my head. I saw people heading up to the hills saying that they were going to chase the Tutsis and I ran to join them. Everywhere we went, there was already a mob surrounding the Tutsis. I was the first to start killing. At the time I didn’t think I was doing anything wrong. Until I got arrested, I didn’t realize that I had committed crimes. And now that I have seen the consequences, I have understood that what I did was wrong. When I was killing, I thought that there wasn’t a problem, it didn’t matter because the authorities said that the Tutsis were the enemy. I had Tutsi neighbors and we shared everything, the water... there was no problem between us. I don’t know why these things have happened at all. Doing evil was popular."
Today, every Rwandese family has a victim, a killer, or both.
Gaspard, a Tutsi that survived the genocide, says: "You ask me if I talk to the people who killed members of my family. Of course I talk to them, and why shouldn’t I? I cannot be isolated. I communicate with them; I am not spiteful like they are. We visit, have a beer with them; we even get on with their daughters. Around here, you can count with your fingers the ones that got away. You must have seen that along the highway there’s nothing but ruins. There are not more than three Tutsis. All Hutus took part in the genocide. All the houses that are still standing are those of Hutus. All the young people you see here have killed. I do not want to point my finger at the butchers still walking free. That’s up to the authorities. I won’t even denounce them. I do not want to get involved. If I did, that would bring conflict to the neighborhood. People are going to think that we have accused them and that we want to take revenge."
In the country, the hardest part for those who survived is to live in absence of their loved ones amid neighbors who, in one way or another, participated in the genocide; neighbors with whom they must speak and to whom they have to smile like before. Some women who consider this situation a further torture have decided to assemble in villages of widows, built practically all over Rwanda. Such is the case of Enata. This beautiful widow is 38 years old. Her body is covered with scars, tracks of maces with nails on her head and forehead; machete blows on her temples, on the back of her neck, on her hands, amputated toes... After the genocide she returned to the hills, to the ruins of her house. For two years she had to keep it all inside. Upon her arrival to the widows’ village she has allowed herself to open up and speak.
Enata: "I had nine children; they killed five. I also lost my husband, my father, my mother, my brothers and all their family. These are my children; they’re with me all the time. When the war began I was with my husband and my older children. We ran to the hills, where everybody was hiding. Once in a while, we would hear that such-and-such hill was being attacked, that everything was burning, that a woman had been killed near there, and that the slaughter had already started in our village. We would start to run and somebody would tell you that they just killed your son in such-and-such place. People would bring news about the death of your husband, your father, your brother... until the day they told us that Hutus attacked and destroyed the church where a multitude of people had taken refuge, and everyone inside the church had been killed. On the following day, those that still had strength went to the church to rescue a boy or an adult who had survived between the corpses. The eve of the attack to the church, the soldiers came asking: "Who are you running from" We said: "We are running from the Hutus."
In the valley of Javor, in the former Yugoslavia, surrounded by blue mountains and lavish dark-green forests, in the heart of Europe, is Srebrenica, a small radiant city at the northeast of Bosnia Herzegovina, well-known for its hot springs, its timber wealth and its mines. Between 1992 and 1995, Srebrenica became the symbol of the monstrosity perpetrated in the Balkans, one of the most violent manifestations of evil and human misery. Although the UN declared the city "protected zone", its 37 thousand people –mostly Muslims– suffered the siege of the Serb military.
Scarcely protected by a small platoon of Dutch blue helmets, the forces of Srebrenica offered a tenacious resistance to the offensive of the Serbian military’s devastating howitzers. Without water or food, without electricity or sanitary facilities, they decided to hold out and wait for the outcome of the war. But on the morning of July 11th, 1995, the Serbian brigades under the command of General Ratko Mladic, invaded the city and, aided by the incomprehensible passivity of the blue helmets, they massacred eleven thousand Muslims, mostly men between the ages of eighteen and sixty, becoming the most massive European slaughter since World War II. In the central barn of Srebrenica, the goons of Ratko Mladic burned 2,400 Muslims, while the apathetic blue helmets observed the atrocity, ignoring the screams and the agony of the victims. Wesley Clark, former NATO Supreme Commander in Europe, accused six months ago ex-Serbian president Slodoban Milosevic in the Court at La Hague for having allowed the slaughter of Bosnian Serb troops. Each square meter of this city, according to the Association of Mothers of Srebrenica, is stained with blood.
In his book Genocide in Bosnia, Norman Cigar has written that the war of Kosovo and the genocide in Bosnia began in 1989, when Slodoban Milosevic, instigating the frenetic campaign of Serbian nationalistic fervor that allowed him to seize absolute power –while, at the same time, causing the disintegration of the Yugoslav Federation– abolished the statute of autonomy of that province and prohibited Kosovar Albanians from attending schools, denying them all representation in spite of them being ninety percent of the population, turning them into second class citizens and imposing over them the will of the ten percent of Serbs. "The term genocide fits like a glove," writes Cigar, "to describe Milosevic’s actions. While the peace talks in Rambouillet were taking place, Milosevic, ignoring prior agreements, ordered the mobilization of forty thousand troops of the Yugoslav army towards Kosovo and, days later, he weatherproofed the province expelling the international press. The testimonies gathered from Kosovar refugees in Macedonia and Albania paint a ruthless, calculated plan, executed with scientific accuracy." In the towns occupied by the Serbian military, the young people were separated from the children, the elderly and the women, then summarily executed, sometimes making them dig their graves first. All public records were burned, including documentation that certified any Kosovar or Muslim as owner of houses, land or that they ever even lived there. In any case, the fixation of Milosevic was ethnic cleansing: to make Kosovo a region one hundred percent Serbian and orthodox, without a trace of Muslims or Albanians.
It is important to examine the indictment document drafted by Louise Arbour, public prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal on behalf of the former Yugoslavia in May, 1999, against Slodoban Milosevic. "He stands accused of having planned, instigated, ordered and carrying out a campaign of terror, violence and systematic ethnic cleansing executed by the Yugoslav forces in Kosovo," whilst General Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic, a Serbian politician, are directly accused of "genocide" and military crimes, such as the case of Srebrenica, by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. Both criminals disappeared since the Dayton Peace Accords, which put an end to war in December, 1995. For eight years, the troops of NATO stationed in the area have been trying in vain to detain Mladic and Karadzic and bring them to appear at The Hague. No dice. A part of the Serbian population protects them, regarding them as military heroes. Downtown Belgrade, t-shirts with the images of both murderers are being sold, a clear testimony that a sector of the Serbian society supported their nationalistic and genocidal delusions. Mladic and Karadzic, apparently, may have undergone plastic surgery to change their appearance, or may live with a false identity in a foreign country.
Meanwhile, a bureau of the UN unearths thousands of corpses found in common graves discovered in Eastern Bosnia. The Association of Mothers of Srebrenica demands justice and is filing charges. Gordon Bacon, head of the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP), is in charge of the investigation on the open graves of Srebrenica. "They’re more than five thousand," writes German journalist Rolf Schubert, "they’ve hardly uncovered one fourth."
From the 19th century, Manuel José Othón again bespeaks the horror:

How feeble and how painful over yonder!
How remorseless and savage amphitheatre!
Hovering the horizon such repugnance
As if Death on these hills was laid asunder.

And the shadow, advancing and advancing,
Resembles, with its harrowing surroundings,
The boundless soul, and thunderous in anguish,
Of the ones who shall die without a warning.
"There are still remnants of corpses in the area; there are so many common graves in Eastern Bosnia that each square meter is stained with blood," says Hatidza Mehmedovic, spokesperson for the Association of Mothers of Srebrenica. "Justice is the only forgiveness. We’re in great need of help, because the international organisations grandstand with the memory of Srebrenica, but then they don’t do anything. Out of eleven thousand people disappeared in July, 1995, the remains of two thousand have been found and another five thousand have been exhumed, but they remain unidentified. The other bodies have not been found. Nobody suppressed this slaughter, the soldiers of the UN witnessed the death of our people.
Many Serbs know where the victims were buried, but fear prevents them from revealing it."
Up to this point I have attempted a summary of the most atrocious genocides of the last forty years with a single purpose: to illustrate the knowledge of contemporary history in order to render legible and visible the legal definition of genocide; also, I seek to address the obligation and exigency of it being written and being witnessed from the very heart of the matter. Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen, Cambodia, Rwanda and Srebrenica speak to us of a phenomenon in the fringe of experience and discourse which not only exhibit the limitations of our narrative and rhetorical forms, but also of any project for writing history. To speak of genocide is to speak of evil, of the diabolical power, in a manner of speaking, that turns to us into beasts, and of the drama of our freedom.
In an event without precedent in the history of Mexico, the special public prosecutor for Political and Social Movements of the Past of the PGR, Ignacio Carrillo Prieto, accused ex-president Luis Echeverria Alvarez and ten other civil employees of his government of genocide. According to the prosecutor, on June 10th, 1971, genocide was committed in Mexico. In agreement with the Federal Penal Code which states that "genocide is a crime committed by anyone who seeks to partially or totally destroy one or more national, ethnic, racial or religious groups; a crime perpetrated by any means against the life of those said groups or imposing massive sterilization with the purpose of preventing the reproduction of the group."
From the beginning, public prosecutor Carrillo Prieto encountered an impasse. Luis Echeverría is no Heinrich Himmler, neither a Pol Pot. It may well prove impossible to classify as genocide and to demonstrate the total or partial destruction of one or more national groups during the violent suppression on June 10th, 1971, all the more because those groups belonged to institutions of higher learning. From this perspective, prosecutor Carrillo Prieto appears to ignore the difference between State terror and genocide. During the indictment of the Argentinean military, public prosecutor Julio César Strasera, while having the opportunity of accusing them of genocide, preferred to charge them with homicide and he put both Videla and Galtieri in jail. "In the Argentine Republic" –argued Strasera– "each member of the Army, aided by the police, intelligence services and the support of civilian groups, decided to overthrow constitutional president Maria Estela Martinez de Perón by means of a coup d'etat on the 24th of March 1976, and also designed and to execute a systematic criminal project of disappearance and physical elimination of citizens by ideological and political reasons."
Last July, Second District Judge César Flores Rodríguez determined that in the events of June 10th, 1971, genocide did not take place, but instead there were homicides, injuries, obstruction of justice and abuse of office, but that those illicit acts have exhausted the statute of limitations and, therefore, he denied the twelve arrest warrants requested by the Office of the Public Prosecutor Specialized in Social and Political Movements of the Past (FEMOSPP). "Apparently, the court did not debate whether genocide prescribes," Alfredo Méndez and Gustavo Castillo, reporters of La Jornada, wrote: "but instead they only considered whether during the events on June 10th, 1971 said crime occurred."
I suppose fiscal Carrillo Prieto did not have a choice other than to accuse them of genocide, because the other crimes had prescribed; but we should not forget that, as far as I know, nobody exonerated them; on the contrary, everyone, Echeverria included, were found guilty of homicide, injuries, obstruction of justice and abuse of office. Nobody can deny either that, after the events of October 2nd, 1968, when a massacre occurred during a political rally, the Halcones, a paramilitary group, was created to suppress and to assassinate dissident politicians. Nevertheless, Mr. Ignacio Carrillo Prieto, in his unwavering intent to indict Echeverria and his collaborators, lost the opportunity of, at the same time, assembling a sort of Truth Commission, or rather, in a much deeper sense, a Court of the Memory. Let us not forget. Ahead lies a dirty war and a wake of deaths and disappearances. The problem comes from the exceptional gravity of the crimes that the State itself has committed against a targeted sector of the population, a population which it should have protected and offered security.
The historian is a surgeon of memory, “whose honor is to heal the wounds", wrote Eugen Rosenstock-Huessi. In the same way a physician must act without taking too much into consideration every theory because his patient is ill, the historian must act, guided by his moral purpose, to recover the memory of a nation. I make a clear distinction between the public prosecutor and the historian, because in this specific case memory and history intertwine. The prosecutor must investigate and articulate his case; the historian cannot be appointed to court, nor does he want to be. If he were, he would risk the jeopardy of a partial judgment. The difference between provisional, historical judgment and the definitive judicial sentence is what Karl Jaspers calls the places of memory. It appears to me that prosecutor Carrillo Prieto has thrown overboard that historical dimension, focusing on the crimes alone. We must recover the memory of our losses. Oblivion makes us bad, having much less to do with memory that with the mourning and pain which prevail notwithstanding.
In Mexico we have brave and magnificent historians who have narrated the authoritarian repression and the massive murders: Elena Poniatowska, Carlos Monsiváis, Julio Scherer García, but we do not have historians of that time. Nobody has written, like Pierre Nora in France, the Places of the Mexican Memory. That secret history that begins with the anti-chinese movement in Mexico (1871-1934), as summarized by José Jorge Gómez Izquierdo, through the systematic repression of minorities, such as protestants and homosexuals, then came October 2nd, 1968 and June 10th, 1971. Links of the same chain. Mexican totalitarianism does not have historians; nobody has given an account of the links between the honchos and their thugs, their economic interests and their rewards. The memory is an ever present phenomenon, a bond that shares the present with eternity; history, a representation of the past.
The places of memory emerge, not only as Karl Jaspers or Pierre Nora argue, from the depths of uncertainty, but at the rupture between history and memory, between the indictment testimony and the actual recollection. More than a topographic location, they are profound dwellings of remembrance, on which quotidian social conducts may rest. In any case, the sentence makes manifest, by means of its definitive character, the enormous difference between the legal perspective and the historical perspective of such deeds. Perhaps one of the most important consequences is the inevitable public judgment over a group of Mexican politicians responsible for homicides over an extended period of time. If indeed there might be somebody at once impartial yet imprecise, we end up joining the public prosecutor to the judge, the historian, and a fourth component: the citizen. His conduct is derived from his own experience, instructed both by the penal judge and the published historical investigation. But the counsel of the citizens never ends, which places them next to the historian. "By all means, the common citizen continues to be the final arbiter," Hannah Arendt wrote, "the militant carrier of human rights and constitutional democracy." Translated by Miguel Alvarado

José María Pérez Gay
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  1. Reference? — Perico de los palotes
  2. respuesta — miguel

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