Is ‘Never Again’ Meaningless?
History is littered with examples of man’s cruelty and inhumanity to his fellow man, woman, and child. Regrettably, there has been no shortage of genocidal actions committed in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. The phrase ‘never again’ was uttered by the liberated Buchenwald concentration camp survivors in 1945. ‘Never again’ would there be brutality committed against a particular group based on their race, religion, or national identity.
The month of April is Genocide Awareness Month. Think about this for one moment: An entire month dedicated to heightening awareness of genocide and its accompanying brutality. Why April? This month was selected as many of the significant dates regarding specific genocides in history occurred during the month of April.
For example, April 7th is the date of the Rwandan genocide’s beginning. In addition, April 17th is the anniversary of the Cambodian genocide; April 24th was the start of the Armenian genocide; and April 27th-28th is Holocaust Remembrance Day.
From the Armenian genocide (1915-1923) to the Ottoman Christian genocide (1915-1923), the Holocaust and Nazi persecution of the Jewish people throughout Europe (1933-1945), Bosnia (1992-1995), Rwanda (1994), Darfur (2003-present), the Rohingya population, who reside in Rakhine State, Myanmar (2017-present), to the Uyghurs in Xinjiang and Chinese brutality, the world has witnessed what man is capable of when left to his own devices.
Today the world is experiencing in real-time the horrifying images spread across major newspapers regarding Russian savagery and barbarity in Ukraine, specifically in the small town of Bucha and the southeastern city of Mariupol.
Interviewed by CBS News anchor Margaret Brennan, she posed the question to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, “Is this genocide?” The president responded by stating, “Indeed, this is genocide.” Moreover, Zelensky added, “The elimination of the whole nation and the people. We are the citizens of Ukraine. We have more than 100 nationalities. This is about the destruction and extermination of all these nationalities.”
The United Nations has acted by suspending Russia from the UN Human Rights Council with ninety-three votes for suspension, twenty-four against, and fifty-eight abstaining. The Los Angeles Times reported that the “apparent execution-style killings of civilians” in Bucha galvanized UN member states to vote to remove Russia from the UN Human Rights Council. Critics assert that this is a symbolic gesture; however, this measure taken by member states reflects the growing unity of the international community against the unprovoked Russian aggression in Ukraine.
The term genocide was conceived by Polish lawyer Raphael Lemkin in his 1944 book titled, Axis Rule in Occupied Europe, “by combining geno, from the Greek word for race or tribe, with -cide, derived from the Latin word for killing.”
The atrocities perpetrated by Russia in Ukraine have certainly shocked the conscience of the world. But do these horrific images prompt greater action by the West in response to what has occurred to this point? Do these actions constitute genocide? Scholars and analysts are debating this issue. But as the debate continues to rage, civilians are losing their lives on the ground.
‘Never again’ has become a constant refrain throughout the course of history. The lack of political will by the international community to prevent or stop such actions provides a “green light” for actors around the world to exploit this inaction.
For if we are to witness in our lifetimes an end to genocidal acts perpetrated by evil individuals and groups, then the world needs to direct its moral compass toward developing the political will to give actual meaning to the words ‘never again.’