Views expressed are those of respective authors and not necessarily of the
Les opinions exprimées sont celles des auteurs respectifs et pas nécessairement de

– Alfred de Zayas, Geneva School of Diplomacy
Athens, 6 December 2019

Excellencies, distinguished participants, colleagues, ladies and gentlemen

Reparation for the crime of genocide, about which I shall speak tomorrow, is always ex post facto. Lethal harm has already been done.  Traumata remain.  Logically, therefore, we should focus on preventive strategies. 

Significantly, the Genocide Convention itself bears the title “Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide”.  Yet, the Convention’s text does not lay down any specific roadmap on prevention, nor does it set up monitoring mechanisms. 

Undoubtedly, the Convention constitutes a milestone, because it defines an old crime, a scourge of millennia -- the crime of mass murder of a racial or religious group -- and affirms universal jurisdiction for the punishment of this megacrime against all of humanity.  Interestingly, the concept of Genocide also encompasses conspiracy, complicity and incitement.
As of 2019 there are 149 States parties to the Convention, Including Turkey.
Although the Convention did not establish an international criminal tribunal or a secretariat charged with ensuring the prevention and punishment of the crime, the world now has an International Criminal Court in The Hague following the entry into force of the Statute of Rome in July 2002.  This Court follows the Nuremberg and Tokyo Tribunals and the special Tribunals for the Former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, and possesses competence to prosecute persons suspected of having perpetrated the crime of Genocide (article 6),  crimes against humanity (article 7), war crimes (article 8), and the crime of aggression (article 5).

Pursuant to Article VIII of the Genocide Convention, States can call upon UN organs to adopt measures of prevention.  Pursuant to Article IX, all questions regarding the interpretation of the Convention can be referred to the International Court of Justice, which has automatic jurisdiction. Pursuant to article XVI, States can propose revision of the Convention, for instance, to expand it to cover the crime of cultural genocide, as envisaged by Raphael Lemkin himself, or by adding the crime of ecocide, as advocated by the late Polly Higgins, when destruction of the environment results in the destruction of the lives of human beings.

Ladies and gentlemen

The Genocide Convention is of particular relevance to the Pontian Greeks, as the genocidal animus of Turkey has not abated.  There is a continued hostility, as we know from the Setemvriana of 1955, documented by Dr. Speros Vryonis[1] in a book published in 2007 and in my article in the Review Genocide Studies and Prevention[2] on the legal implications of the Istanbul Pogrom of 6-7 September 1955.  This genocidal animus was demonstrated in the invasion of Cyprus in 1974 and the expulsion 180,000 Greek-Cypriots from Kyrenia and Northern Cyprus to the South of the Island, accompanied by murders of civilians and thousands of missing persons[3].  Even today we are witnessing hostile acts by President Erdogan in the Aegean and the on-going genocidal acts by the Turkish government against the Kurds of Turkey and Syria.

It is a disgrace for all of humanity that even after the Second World War many colonial massacres occurred in Asia, Africa, Southwest Asia and Indonesia, post-colonial massacres of the Igbos and Ogonis of Biafra, massacred by the Nigerian government during the self-determination struggle of 1967-70, we remember the massacre of Bangladeshis during the genocidal 1971 war, the decimation of the Tamils of Sri Lanka and countless others.

Much has been written on genocide since the adoption of the Genocide Convention, notably on the Holocaust and on the Armenian genocide.  This was necessary -- but why has so little been written on issues of prevention?
Since 2004 a Special Advisor of the Secretary General on the Prevention of Genocide, at the level of under-secretary general, engages in early warning. The Current Advisor is Dr. Adama Dieng from Senegal. His Predecessors were Francis Deng and Juan Mendez.  The United Nations Office on Genocide Prevention and the Responsibility to Protect is the focal point where all pertinent information must be evaluated and preventive strategies developed, e.g. through mediation, negotiation, resolution of grievances, and by the timely organization of self-determination referenda.

I should also mention the existence, since 2012 of the function of the UN Special Rapporteur of the Human Rights Council on the Promotion of Truth, Justice and Reparation.  The first rapporteur was Pablo de Greiff (Colombia), the current rapporteur is Professor Fabian Salvioli (Argentina).  Pontian Greeks should write Professor Salvioli and provide him with all relevant information and documentation[4].

Attention is now being given to the problem of hate speech as a harbinger of hate crimes.  But any preventive strategy must be conjugated with the democratic right of freedom of opinion and expression, as explained in the Human Rights Committee’s General Comment 34 on Freedom of Opinion and Expression[5], so as to avoid counter-productive censorship and self-censorship.  More than anything, we need education in ethics, empathy, and in our shared human dignity.

Ladies and gentlemen,

It has been said that secrecy facilitates the commission of genocide.  This was partly the case in connection with the Armenian genocide, the Holocaust (Fuehrerbefehl Nr. 1 on secrecy[6]), the massacre of Kurds at Halabja, the massacre of Srebrenica, etc.  Thus, it is important to uncover covers-up and denounce state terrorism.  This brings me to the necessity of whistleblowers in the modern world.  Indeed, whistleblowers like Julian Assange and Edward Snowden are key human rights defenders, because the reveal the criminal acts that governments are doing in our name – but behind our backs.  Independent journalists who take their vocation as watchdogs seriously  -- they too are indispensable in early warning to help combat the early stages of genocide.

Undoubtedly, whistleblowers and journalists are entitled to special protection.  For that reason in several of my reports to the UN Human Rights Council and the UN General Assembly I have called for a charter on the rights of whistleblowers[7]

Had there been more courageous journalists and more whistleblowers in Germany in the years 1933-1945, the world – and the German people – themselves would have been alerted and moved to action. A notorious German “whistleblower” was Bishop Clemens von Galen of Münster, who condemned from the pulpit the Nazi Euthanasia program, which, because of the outrage, had to be phased out.[8]

Ladies and gentlemen

In order to strengthen prevention strategies, we must end the prevailing culture of impunity. Turkey has consolidated the genocide of the Armenians, Greeks and Assyro-Chaldeans[9], it has continued the genocide by denying the facts and destroying the memory of the victims in a manner as cynical as the old Roman damnatio memoriae.

Allow me to say with Professor Henry Theriault[10] that hitherto there has been collective negligence about raising timely alert, and in tolerating impunity.  We need a sense of responsibility vis-à-vis the victims of every genocide – including the genocide against the Greeks of Pontos and Smyrna. We all must demonstrate resolve against genocide deniers and demand recognition by governments and reparations from every country guilty of genocide, including Turkey.  Indeed, the Armenian and Greek pursuit of justice has universal relevance.  This Conference calls for restorative and reparative justice and challenges the illegitimate and unethical post-genocidal status quo. Vindicating the rights of the victims of yesterday’s genocides shall facilitate the prevention of future tragedies.

Let us honour the suffering of the Pontian Greeks by keeping their memory alive.  Indeed, memory, history, culture and identity are essential components of human dignity.  Let us recognize them as fundamental human rights.


[4] Mr. Fabian Salvioli, Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth,
justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence, OHCHR
Palais des Nations
CH-1211 Geneva 10
Fax: + 41 22 917 9006
[6] Alfred de Zayas, Völkermord als Staatsgeheimnis, Olzog Verlag, München 2011.


Share this content.