From THE JERUSALEM POST, Dec. 4, 2008, by Irwin Cotler:
December 9 marks the 60th anniversary of the Genocide Convention, sometimes referred to as the "Never Again" Convention. Six decades have passed since this new era of genocide prevention was proclaimed in the wake of the Holocaust. On this oft-ignored anniversary, we must acknowledge our abysmal failure in preventing the most destructive threat known to humankind - the crime whose name we should even shudder to mention - genocide.
The enduring lesson of the Holocaust and that of the genocides that followed is that they occurred not simply because of the machinery of death, but because of the state-sanctioned incitement to hatred. As international tribunals have recognized and affirmed, the Holocaust did not begin in the gas chambers; it began with words. These are the chilling facts of history.
Most important, in all other cases of state-sanctioned incitement to genocide - the Holocaust, the Balkans, Rwanda and Darfur - the genocides have already occurred. Only in President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's Iran - the epicenter of such incitement - can we still act so as to prevent a genocide foretold from occurring.
For it is in Ahmadinejad's Iran where one finds the toxic convergence of the advocacy of the most horrific of crimes embedded in the most virulent of hatreds. It is dramatized by the parading in the streets of Teheran of a Shahab-3 missile draped in the words "Israel must be wiped off the map" and underpinned by the words of the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei that "[t]here is only one solution to the Middle East problem, namely the annihilation and destruction of the Jewish state."
Moreover, Ahmadinejad's Iran has already resorted to incendiary and demonizing language, including epidemiological metaphors reminiscent of Nazi incitement. For example, President Ahmadinejad characterizes Israel as "filthy bacteria," "a stinking corpse" and "a cancerous tumor that needs to be excised," while referring to Jews as "evil incarnate," "blood-thirsty barbarians" and the "defilers of Islam" - the whole as prologue to, and justification for, a Mideast genocide, while at the same time denying the Nazi one.
Indeed, calls by the most senior figures in the Iranian leadership for the destruction of Israel are also frighteningly reminiscent of calls for the Rwandan extermination of Tutsis by the Hutu leadership. The crucial difference is that the Hutus were equipped with machetes, while Iran, in defiance of the world community, continues its pursuit of the most destructive of weaponry: nuclear arms. Alarmingly, Iran has already succeeded in developing a long-range missile delivery system for that purpose, the whole recalling former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani's open threat that "even one atomic bomb inside Israel will wipe it off the face of the earth."
The failure to stop past genocides, as in the unspeakable, preventable genocide of Rwanda, caused the then-UN secretary general Kofi Annan to lament in 2004 on the 10th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide: "We must never forget our collective failure to protect at least 800,000 defenseless men, women and children who perished in Rwanda 10 years ago.
"Such crimes cannot be reversed. Such failures cannot be repaired. The dead cannot be brought back to life. So, what can we do?"
AS THE express target of Iran's genocidal incitement - and the country most at risk from Iran's combined nuclear and genocidal menace - Israel must necessarily be engaged in countering Ahmadinejad's genocidal threat. Indeed, any passive acquiescence by Israel would be misinterpreted and could undermine calls upon other states to act.
But while Israel has been at the forefront of both the movement calling for severe sanctions against Iran for its nuclear weapons program - and of those saying the military option cannot be taken off the table - it has been surprisingly reticent in initiating, or supporting others to initiate any of a number of legal remedies mandated by the Genocide Convention.
Admittedly, Israel has often been singled out for differential treatment in the international arena and so often regards international legal remedies with skepticism if not suspicion. However, holding Iran to account in the legal arena is not only the right thing to do; it is a duty. For what is so often ignored is that state parties to the Genocide Convention, including Israel, have not only a right, but an obligation, to enforce the Convention, and in particular to prevent genocide.
The threat of Ahmadinejad's Iran is not merely nuclear; it is genocidal. Let there be no mistake about it: Iran has already committed the crime of incitement prohibited under the Genocide Convention. We must understand that the threat of genocide is not a distraction from the nuclear issue; it is the terrifying and vilifying context in which the nuclear threat operates. It should be the basis for bolstering and enhancing sanctions, as disconnecting the genocidal from the nuclear ambitions of Iran only weakens the case against both.
Instead of relegating debate to the nuclear question - which addresses the means, but not the motivation, of the destructive capacity of Ahmadinejad's Iran - Israel should also be leading the international community in paying heed to the precursors of genocide. As one who was involved as minister of justice in the prosecution of Rwandan incitement, I can state that the aggregate of precursors of incitement in the Iranian case are more threatening than were those in the Rwandan one.
SIMPLY PUT, the Genocide Convention authorizes a panoply of international legal remedies which Israel could invoke or support others in invoking.
Specifically, an application to hold Iran - also a state party - to account should be submitted to the UN Security Council pursuant to Article 8 of the Genocide Convention; an inter-state complaint can be launched against Iran before the International Court of Justice; and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon should be asked to refer the danger of a genocidal and nuclear Iran to the Security Council as a threat to international peace and security.
Given their genocidal incitement, the cases of President Ahmadinejad and other Iranian leaders can be referred to other UN agencies as well. What is so astonishing is that this criminal incitement by a nuclear weapon-seeking Iran has yet to be addressed by any agency of the UN-thereby nurturing a culture of impunity that itself is driving a culture of hatred. And what is no less disturbing - considering that indifference and inaction are also what made prior genocides possible - is that no state party has invoked any of these mandated initiatives.
The legal remedies to counter state-sanctioned incitement exist, but the leadership has thus far been wanting. This is why I am releasing a petition entitled "The Danger of a Genocidal and Nuclear Iran: The Responsibility to Prevent" - endorsed by legal scholars, genocide experts and even genocide survivors from around the world - that extensively presents the factual and legal case against Ahmadinejad's Iran, and that calls upon the international community, and state parties to the Genocide Convention, to act.
Calling Ahmadinejad's Iran to account - and directly linking its nuclear ambitions to its genocidal incitements - is not simply an option. It is a responsibility - a responsibility to prevent - a responsibility envisaged by the Genocide Convention 60 years ago.
The writer is the former minister of justice and attorney-general of Canada and is a Canadian member of parliament. He is a professor of law (on leave) at McGill University and has written extensively on - and prosecuted for - incitement to genocide.