Leading Human Rights Activist: Iran Is Guilty of Trying to Incite Genocide against Israel

Leading Human Rights Activist: Iran Is Guilty of Trying to Incite Genocide against Israel


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May 28, 2009 —
If the seeds of the genocides in Rwanda, the former Yugoslavia, and Darfur were planted by leaders who incited others to go on killing sprees, then the rhetoric from Iran offers troubling parallels, a leading human rights activist said.

Irwin Cotler, a member of Canada’s Parliament and that country’s former justice minister and attorney general, says the many anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic remarks of Iranian leaders, especially President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, are akin to a country sanctioning genocide.

“This is the only instance of state-sanctioned genocide that is foretold—waiting to happen,” said Cotler during a recent appearance at Columbia Law School. “And this is where the duty to prevent kicks in.”

Cotler was the semester’s final speaker in the Hate Speech and Incitement to Violence Workshop sponsored by the Center for the Study of Law and Culture at Columbia University, directed by Professor Kendall Thomas, Nash Professor of Law.

“Incitement to genocide is a crime in and of itself,” said Cotler, citing laws set out in the Genocide Convention drafted by the United Nations in 1948, following the Holocaust.

Ahmadinejad has called Israel a “false regime” and a “stinking corpse” led by “bloodthirsty barbarians” that should be “wiped off the map.”

In such words, Cotler detects the precursors to the incitement of genocide, viewing Ahmadinejad’s remarks as even more serious than the rhetoric that sparked the massacre of an estimated 800,000 Rwandans in 1994.

“The Hutus were equipped with machetes,” said Cotler of the then-ruling majority in Rwanda. “Iran is equipped ostensibly with atomic weapons.”

The Genocide Convention makes it clear that incitement to genocide is punishable. Yet no country has ever sought to take action against Ahmadinejad.

Cotler calls that a mistake. He said using inflammatory words to drum up hatred is the first step on a path that can lead to ethnic cleansing and mass killings. “Genocide is not a spontaneous eruption,” he noted. “It is not the inevitable result of ancient hatreds.”

Cotler was asked how he would distinguish between inciting genocide and hate speech, which may be protected by the constitutions of some countries. He said “brutal political criticism” of a government must be permitted, but not when it essentially advocates the extermination of a state and its people, as when Ahmadinejad in 2006 called for the “elimination of the Zionist regime” in his condemnation of Israel.

Cotler was in Geneva for a United Nations anti-racism conference on April 20 where Ahmadinejad launched into a diatribe against Israel, calling it a “totally racist government in occupied Palestine.”

“The remarks by Ahmadinejad were frankly modest . . . they were almost sanitized for the occasion,” he said.

Cotler said he finds it more troubling that Ahmadinejad is given public forums like Geneva to stoke hatred or to issue a call to arms without being challenged.

“All of this has been characterized by indifference and inaction by the international community,” Cotler said.