HISTORY IN THE NEWS
Dedicated to the background of contemporary events around the world.
War Crimes and Human Rights.
Dedicated to the background of contemporary events around the world.
War Crimes and Human Rights.
With thanks to:
2100 B.C.-(circa) In Iraq, the Laws of Hammurabi, the first written legal code, vows to “make justice reign in the kingdom, to destroy the wicked and violent, to enlighten the country and promote the good of the people.”
1,000 BC- Use of arsenical smokes in warfare were known to the Chinese.
570 B.C.-(circa) The Charter of Cyrus is drawn up by King Cyrus the Great of Persia (now Iran) for the people of his kingdom, recognizing rights to liberty, security, freedom of movement, the right to own property, and some economic and social rights.
1215- Bowing to pressure from English nobles, King John of England signs the Magna Carta, which establishes limits on arbitrary power and rights to due process.
1474 The first “international” war crimes trial - Peter von Hagenbach convicted by a Holy Roman Empire ad hoc tribunal of command responsibility. He was beheaded.
1500- The use of poison gas, not employed since ancient and medieval times, is reintroduced, in limited form, during the Italian Renaissance.
The Treaty of Westphalia
1648- The Treaty of Westphalia, Germany, an early international legal treaty, establishes autonomy in religious matters for individual states.
The Anglo-American Tradition
1679-The Habeas Corpus Act in Britain gives anyone who is detained the right to a fair trial within a certain amount of time.
1689- Britain’s Bill of Rights upholds the supremacy of Parliament over the King, and provides freedom of speech, the right to bail, freedom from torture, free elections, and trials by jury.
1776- The U.S. Declaration of Independence declares, “all men are created equal” and establishes North America’s independence from the British Empire.
The French Revolution.
1789- The French Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizens is established after the overthrow of the the French monarchy.
American Bil of Rights
1791-The American Bill of Rights and Constitution list basic civil and political rights of citizens including freedom of speech and rule of law.
1861-1865- Andersonville Prison, Georgia -a Confederate prisoner of war camp which received 45,000 Union prisoners of whom 13,000 died of abuse, disease and starvation.
The Geneva Conventions
1864 – 1949 The Geneva Conventions - four related treaties providing a legal basis for international law with regard to conduct in warfare
First Geneva Convention: Treatment of wounded and sick in armed forces in the field
Second Geneva Convention: Treatment of wounded and sick members of armed forces at sea
Third Geneva Convention: Treatment of prisoners of war
Fourth Geneva Convention: Protection of civilians in time of war
1899 and 1907 The Hague Conventions - the first formal statements of the laws of war and war crimes (along with the First and Second Geneva Conventions)
1899- The Hague Conference- it was obvious that weapons of chemical warfare had already been developed during the 19th century: "A general concern over the use of poison gas manifested itself in 1899 at the Hague Conference with a proposal prohibiting shells filled with asphyxiating gas. The proposal was passed, despite a single dissenting vote from the United States. The American representative, justified voting against the measure on the grounds that 'the inventiveness of Americans should not be restricted in the development of new weapons.'- Wikipedia
The Term 'Genocide'
1900: Raphael Lemkin- who would later coin the word "genocide," was born into a Polish Jewish family in 1900. His memoirs detail early exposure to the history of Ottoman attacks against Armenians (which most scholars believe constitute genocide), antisemitic pogroms, and other histories of group-targeted violence as key to forming his beliefs about the need for legal protection of groups.
World War One and Armenian Genocide
1914-1918- Use of poisons as weapons (All major belligerents used poisonous gasses against enemy personnel in combat.)
1915- Armenian Genocide- The Young Turk regime ordered the wholesale extermination of Armenians living within Anatolia. This was carried out by certain elements of their military forces, who either massacred Armenians outright, or deported them to Syria and then massacred them. Over 1.5 million Armenians perished.
1916- Anton Dilger (1884-1918), an American educated as a surgeon in Germany, set up a basement laboratory in Washington DC for cultivating anthrax bacteria and Pseudomonas mallei to infect horses and cattle destined to supply Allied armies. German saboteurs disseminated the bacteria. Dilger later moved to Mexico to help goad Mexico into attacking the US. He died of the Spanish flu in Madrid. In 2007 Robert Koenig authored “The Fourth Horseman: One Man’s Mission to Wage the Great War in America."
1921 Leipzig War Crimes Trial - Several German military commanders in the First World War were tried by the German Supreme Court for war crimes.
1938- Sarin gas discovered in Wuppertal-Elberfeld in Germany by two German scientists attempting to create stronger pesticides.
The Nanking Massacre
1937-1938 (Dec-Jan) Nanking Massacre in which Japanese troops occupying Nanking, China, massacred about 280,000 Chinese civilians.
The Japanese generally used poison gas in their invasion of China.
World War Two and the Holocaust.
Both sides generally avoided the use of Poison gas during military operations during World War Two for fear of retaliation in kind.
1940- April-May- the Katyn Massacre- Katyn, Poland- in which Stalin's secret police, the NKVD, murdered the entire Polish officer corps of about 21,000 in the Katyn Forest.
1941: A crime without a name On June 22, 1941, Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union. As the German forces advanced further east, SS, police, and military personnel carried out atrocities that moved British Prime Minister Winston Churchill to state in August 1941: “We are in the presence of a crime without a name.” In December 1941, the United States entered World War II on the side of the Allied forces. Lemkin, who arrived in the United States as a refugee in 1941, had heard of Churchill’s speech and later claimed that his introduction of the word “genocide” was in part a response to Churchill’s statement
1942- Jan 20- The Wannsee Conference-in which the Nazi leadership decided on the 'final solution' or the extermination of European Jewry.
1943-1945- The Holocaust- the policy of detaining Jews in forced labour camps developed into a program ol extermination or genocide in which 6 million Jews were gassed to death, mostly with carbon monoxide many by summary execution, resulting in the killing of 70% of German Jewry. Casualties numbers all told from Nazi abuse, internment and murder of different groups and nationalities reach 20 million.
1944-1982- Napalm, a liquid incendiary agent notorious for burning on flesh was used widely in wars in the second half of the 20th century, and especially by the US Air Force to devastaing effect in Viet Nam.
1945- Feb 13-15- Dresden Firestorm- the intensive Allied bombing of Dresden created a vacuum at the heart of the city which drew in and killed many of the 24,000 Germans who perished. THis is mostly considered to have been an act of war. But there has been much controversy as to whether this constituted a war crime and some have accused Winston Churchill of planning the bombing and firestorm as an act of the deliberate extermination of civilians.
1945-1946- London Charter / Nuremberg Trials - Along with war crimes the charter also defined crimes against peace and crimes against humanity.
1945-1946: International Military Tribunal in Nuremberg tried 22 major Nazi German leaders on charges of crimes against peace, war crimes, crimes against humanity and conspiracy to commit each of these crimes. It was the first time that international tribunals were used as a post-war mechanism for bringing national leaders to justice. The word “genocide” was included in the indictment, but as a descriptive, not legal, term.
1946 International Military Tribunal for the Far East, Tokyo - Tried the leaders of the Empire of Japan for: crimes against peace, war crimes, and crimes against humanity, committed during World War II.
Convention of Genocide
1947-1948: Creating an international convention on genocide- Raphael Lemkin was a critical force for bringing “genocide” before the nascent United Nations, where delegates from around the world debated the terms of an international law on genocide. On December 9, 1948, the final text was adopted unanimously. The United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide entered into force on January 12, 1951, after more than 20 countries from around the world ratified it.
1968- March 16- The My Lai Massacre, My Lai Vietnam. Only Lt. William Calley was convicted in the massacre by US troops of around 400 Vietnamese men, women and children.
1973-1990- In Chile, the regime of Augusto Pinochet, who took power in a coup d'etat in 1973, systematically repressed communists, socialists and other political opponents. At least 2,279 persons were conclusively murdered by the Chilean government for political reasons during Pinochet's regime, and at at least 30,000 persons were tortured by the government for political reasons.
1975-1979- The Cambodian Genocide under the Khmer Rouge government led by Pol Pot- took the lives of around 2 million, mostly in forced labour camps where they had been imprisoned on the least suspicion of opposing the far-left Communist Party Party of Kampuchea.
1981- Dec. 11- El Salvador, The El Mozote massacre in which 800 people of the village of El Mozote, El Salvador, were murdered by an elite Salvadoran military unit during the El Salvador Civil war.
Latin America in the 1970s and 1980s.
1970-1983- Argentina's 'Dirty War' in which state terrorism was used by a right-wing military junta against political dissidents, with military and security forces conducting urban and rural guerrilla warfare against left-wing guerrillas, political dissidents, and anyone believed to be associated with socialism. Victims of the violence included an estimated 15,000 to 30,000 left-wing activists and militants, including trade unionists, students, journalists and alleged sympathizers. Those may include the 30,000 generally agreed to have "been disappeared."
1979-1996- The Soviet occupation of Afghanistan (1979-1989) and the the subsequent Afghan Civil War- in both the mere concept of human rights and and the rules of war were entirely absent. Torture, reprisal and the use and abuse of women, children and civilians in general was routine.
Nicaragua, 1979-1980- Numerous war crimes were committed against Sandinista government sympathizers by Contra Guerrilla forces with CIA support and probably with CIA knowledge, during the Nicaraguan Civil war which pitted the Contras against the Sandinista army. The Sandinista Government was guilty of forced re-education and relocation and abuse of local populations, particularly the internment and relocation of the Miskito Indians.
1980- the use of naplam on civilian populations is banned by the U.N.
1981- Guatemalan military counterinsurgency: Sources with the human rights office of the Catholic Church estimated the death toll from military repression in 1981 at 11,000, with most of the victims indigenous peasants of the Guatemalan highlands. Other sources and observers put the death toll due to government repression in 1981 at between 9,000 and 13,500. (Wikipedia)
1982-1983- Ixil, Guatemala- the Rios Montt government unleashed a bloody counterinsurgency against an indigenous guerrilla uprising and its alleged civilian supporters in the rural highlands. Although the conflict engulfed huge swaths of the country, the case focused on human rights crimes committed by Ríos Montt’s army in the Ixil region of the department of Quiché, where 1,771 indigenous Mayans were killed and some 29,000 displaced in a scorched-earth strategy designed to destroy the Ixil communities once and for all. (The Nation)
1982-1984- Rios Montt regime in Guatemala: the use of state-terror and indiscriminate repression reached its highest levels during Ríos Montt's presidency, mostly within the framework of the rural counterinsurgency. The CIIDH database documented 18,000 state killings in the year 1982. In April 1982 alone (General Efraín Ríos Montt's first full month in office), the military committed 3,330 documented killings, a rate of approximately 111 per day. Historians and analysts estimate the total death toll could exceed this number by the tens of thousands.
1983, Feb 22- Las Hojas Massacre, El Salvador- On February 22, 1983, approximately 74 people were assassinated by members of the Salvadoran security forces near Las Hojas, Sonsonate, El Salvador. All the identified victims were assassinated with firearms at close range. The massacre was carried out in a premeditated fashion by Salvadoran Armed Forces, with the participation of members of the Civil Defense. The Government of El Salvador has failed to bring any successful prosecution against members of its forces implicated in the massacre and has improperly used an amnesty law in violation of its international obligations under human rights law. (http://www1.umn.edu/humanrts/cases/26-92-EL-SALVADOR.htm)
1987-1988- Iraq, Halabja Massacre- Saddam Hussein used poison gas against Kurdish resistance first gassing the population ol Halabja. "By 1988, some 4,000 villages had been destroyed, an estimated 180,000 Kurds had been killed and some 1.5 million had been deported."
1988: US signs the Genocide Convention
On November 4, 1988, US President Ronald Reagan signed the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide. The Convention had strong supporters, but also faced ardent opponents, who argued it would infringe on US national sovereignty. One of the Convention’s strongest advocates, Senator William Proxmire from Wisconsin delivered over 3,000 speeches advocating the Convention in Congress from 1968-1987
1991-1995: Wars of the former Yugoslavia
The wars of the former Yugoslavia were marked by massive war crimes and crimes against humanity. The conflict in Bosnia (1992-1995) brought some of the harshest fighting and worst massacres to Europe since World War II. In one small town, Srebrenica, as many as 8,000 Bosniak men and boys were murdered by Serbian forces.
1993: Resolution 827- In response to the atrocities occurring in Bosnia, the United Nations Security Council issued resolution 827, establishing the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague. It was the first international criminal tribunal since Nuremberg. Crimes the ICTY can prosecute and try are: grave breaches of the 1949 Geneva Conventions, violations of the laws or customs of war, genocide, and crimes against humanity. Its jurisdiction is limited to crimes committed on the territory of the former Yugoslavia.
1993- UN outlaws the use of the nerve agent Sarin gas.
1994: Genocide in Rwanda- From April until mid-July, at least 500,000 civilians, mostly from the Tutsi minority group, were killed in Rawand. It was killing on a devastating scale, scope, and speed. In October, the UN Security Council extended the mandate of the ICTY to include a separate but linked tribunal for Rwanda, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), located in Arusha, Tanzania.
The Balkans, Afghanistan and Congo.
1995- The Srebrenica Massacre-the killing of more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys, as well as the mass expulsion of another 25,000–30,000 Bosnian Muslim civilians, by Serbian trooops in and around the town of Srebrenica, Bosnia.
1996-2001- the Taliban Rule of Afghanistan- involved most human rights abuses, including torture, imprisonment and execution without due process; and together with the abuse and almost total control of the lives of women and denial of women's rights regarded as universal but absent under under by Taliban law
1997-present- The Congo Wars- a series of invasions and civil wars involving Congo and its neighbours has resulted in countless casualties, deaths and abuses, the most notable of which is the pervasive use of rape as a weapon of war.
1998: First conviction for genocide- On September 2, 1998, the ICTR issued the world’s first conviction for genocide in an international tribunal when Jean-Paul Akayesu was judged guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity for acts he engaged in and oversaw as mayor of the Rwandan town of Taba.
1998-1999- Serbia and Kosovar Between 1998 and June 1999, up to 12,000, during the Serbian offensive in ehtnically Albanian Kosovar Albanian men, women and children were murdered by a lethal mix of Serbian “security” forces. Some 800,000 were forcibly deported, or fled in terror. Various estimates of the number of killings attributed to Yugoslav forces have been announced through the years. An estimated 800,000 Kosovo Albanians fled and an estimated 7,000 to 9,000 were killed.
1998-2002- Through an international treaty ratified on July 17, 1998, the International Criminal Court was permanently established to prosecute genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. The treaty reconfirmed the definition of genocide found in the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. It also expanded the definition of crimes against humanity and prohibits these crimes during times of war or peace.
2001- September 11 attacks- American civilians were targeted when two jets hijacked by Al Qaeda under orders of Osama Bin Laden flew into the the twin towers of the World Trade Center. One was crashed into the Pentagon and a third crashed in a field. The death toll was around 3,000.
International Criminal Court
2002 International Criminal Court, The Hague - On July 1, 2002, the International Criminal Court, a treaty-based court, came into being for the prosecution of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed on or after that date. Several nations, most notably the United States, China, Russia, and Israel, have criticized the court. The United States still refuses to ratify the 1998 Rome Statute establishing the ICC.
The 2003 US Invasion of Iraq.
2002-early 2003- UN weapons inspectors find no evidence that Iraq is in possession of any weapons of mass destruction, including bacterial and nerve agents.
-the Bush administration, under the instruction of Vice President Dick Cheney attempts to fabricate the evidence that will persuade Congress to approve the invasion of Iraq.
2003-2013- Sunni and Shia atrocities including suicide bombings, torture and gratuitous murder of civilians before, during and after the the Sunni-Shia Civil War of 2006-2008.
2003-2004- Aby Graib- (late 2003 to early 2004)- In the American detention center of Abu Graib, Iraq, revelation of the large scale humiliation, abuse and torture of Iraqi prisoners by the American military, apparently approved by US authorities.
2004-present: Genocide in Darfur- For the first time in US government history, an ongoing crisis was referred to as a "genocide." On September 9, 2004, Secretary of State Colin Powell testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that "We concluded--I concluded--that genocide has been committed in Darfur and that the Government of Sudan and the Janjaweed bear responsibility--and that genocide may still be occurring." The death toll in the wake of the attacks of Janjaweed Arab militias on black southern farming people and related local conflicts, together with starvation has risen to about 300,000.
2005, Nov. 19- Haditha Massacre, Iraq-American marines murder 24 Iraqi American men, women and children in the Iraqi village of Haditha, in apparent revenge for an IED attack.
2012- March 11- US soldier Robert Bales kills 16 Afghan civilians, mostly women and children in an alcohol-fueled rampage in Panjwai, Afghanistan.
2011 -April 28- Former Dutch Foreign Affairs Minister Ben Bot – “I’ve tried as Minister of Foreign Affairs to gather a number of eminent legal personalities to consider an additional Geneva Convention dealing with such cases (as the Guantanomo Bay suspects), but so far these efforts have been in vain.”
Syrian Civil War.
2011 to present: the civil war between the Assad government and the rebel resistance and armed opposition has been characterized by the wholesale massacre of civilians, mostly by government forces. But massacres and abuses by the rebel opposition have begun to emerge as well.
2013- April 24- Syria's Assad regime suspected by Israel of using poison gas, possibly Sarin, against civilians- in March near Aleppo and Damascus.
2013- June 13- Syria's Assad regime all but confirmed to have used poison gas on civilians.