“to remember is the secret of redemption” –Jewish traditional commandment quoted, Alex Boraine in Hushed Voices, ed. Heribert Adam, 2011
Genocide, the most serious crime recognized by humanity today, was established in international law with the adoption of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide by the United Nations on December 9, 1948. It was the culmination of the life-long campaign of Polish lawyer Raphael Lemkin, who created the term in 1944, that began when as a law student Lemkin became aware of the mass killings, expropriations, expulsions, rapes, and death marches of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire (present dayTurkey) in 1915 for which there was yet no name. With the end of WW II, the memory of the Nazi policy of extermination of Jews, which later named “the Holocaust” became a reference for genocide, made it possible for the nations of the world to accept what Lemkin had been proposing.
But the adoption of the Convention has not prevented genocides. Rather, genocides have continued and continue to be denied both by the perpetrators and nations anxious about their own vulnerability to the charge and defensive about any infringement of national sovereignty. The only result so far has been the establishment the International Criminal Court, which has not been able to achieve much, offering only selective justice that makes it vulnerable to criticism.
Yet the victims of genocide live with the effects of the trauma they have experienced in a world that continues to manifest the symptoms of these unresolved traumas. And the absence of recognition, memory, penalty, and resolution perpetuates injustice and enables further genocides.
This conference will focus on a few genocides that have an immediate bearing on Canada and the diasporas in Canada, particularly the South Asian diaspora. Its goal is to inform, revive memory, compel recognition, and mobilize support for organizations that are engaged in the struggle against genocide. Its ultimate goal is to seek justice for the past, advocate action against the current, and prevent future genocide. It is presented as a part of the emancipatory effort of those who have been denied justice and claim it on the ground of human rights within the critical awareness that the discourse of human rights and genocide has been appropriated by imperialism and deployed in the service of domination.