Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Preventative Care

Opinio Juris has a guest-post by Israeli academic Elihu Richter, who makes a case for adopting a "precautionary principle" in favor of punishing those who incite to genocide.
The proposal to indict the President of Iran for incitement to commit genocide is the template case study for applying the Precautionary Principle based on "predict and prevent" as opposed to "proof of intent after the event".

It is my premise that the core of a program for prevention of genocide and genocidal terror should be based on applying public health models for prediction and prevention which specify surveillance, prevention and control of early genocidal conditions and proactive interventions keyed to early predictors. Based on the lessons of the Armenian Genocide, the Holocaust, former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Darfur, and many other genocides, it is clear that state sponsored incitement and hate language are highly specific early warning signs that should be the trip points for preventive legal action, instead of waiting for prosecution after genocide is over.

Text, subcontext, and context. The foregoing is the basis for some statements I would like to make about text, subtext, and context. The text is the threats--some claim they are merely predictions--to wipe Israel off the map as part of this decision. The subtext is the pictures of missiles below which phrases such as these threats appear. The context is the enriching of uranium in violation of UN resolutions, developing ever more advanced missile systems, promoting Holocaust denial, and supporting terror groups with explicitly stated genocidal agendas, and the fact that the President of the country carrying out such enrichment, is the most vocal advocate of these genocidal threats.

Subtext and context, I submit, are critically important. Up to Oct. 25 2005, Ahmadinejad's predecessors were quoted as having made many threats similar to those made by Ahmadinejad. These were ignored by the International legal community. Had these "inchoate" statements triggered some kind of punitive action, would we be where we are now? Re context, I would be willing to bet that Ahmadinejad--and many others--had made many similar statements on all kinds of soapboxes when he was a minor politician unknown to the world. The case for action to prevent an imminent peril emerged from the day he became President, acquired real power, his statements about wiping Israel off the map became headlines everywhere, and his government rejected all UN resolutions concerning Iran's nuclear plans.

Lapsed period between the statements and the actions. I believe the discussion of the lapsed period has to take into account the fact that children are those most vulnerable to the effects of incitement and hate language from official state sponsored sources, such as texts, media, and places of worship, and the effects may be decades later. We know that for adults, where there is an authoritarian environment, incitement can convert normal people into sadistic killers over a matter of months. But children are the most vulnerable group, as is the case for so many toxic exposures in medicine, and incitement and hate language reaching children increases the likelihood of intergenerational transmission of the effects. As with all cause-effect relationships in which the relations between exposure and effect may be years or decades (e.g. Asbestos, cigarette smoking and cancer, or DES in mothers and congenital malformations in their offspring), we cannot dismiss the case for legal action and accountability just because there is a long lapsed period between exposure and effect. Where the audience for incitement includes schoolchildren, even if there are no immediate effects, we have an obligation to apply R2P-the responsibility to protect future generations-to ensure R4L-Respect for Life.

In a sense, this is pie-in-the-sky. The international community will take no substantive action against Iran and its leadership for genocidal rhetoric towards Israel so long as it remains just rhetoric and not action. Of course, as Prof. Richter eludes to, intent becomes moot after the event, so we're really just rolling the dice and hoping (a rather common trope when it comes to the fates of vulnerable minorities -- Jews and otherwise). But Prof. Richter I think at least establishes the grounds by which we could take substantive action.

1 comment:

PG said...

Do you think the U.S. should support taking substantive action against someone for his speech if it does not rise to the level that would be unprotected by the First Amendment? I am leery of using the European inclination to punish "hate speech" to punish those who incite to genocide if the incitement wouldn't be prosecutable under U.S. law. Certainly the kind of stuff that happened in Gujarat, for example, where authority figures were involved in telling the mob where Muslims lived would qualify as wholly unprotected, inciting-violence speech in the U.S. (For an American example, see also the Nuremberg Files.) But if someone just says, "Muslims suck and someday we're gonna get 'em all," I wouldn't want that to be legally punishable. So far as I know, Ahmadinjad has not incited violence against the few Jews still living in Iran.

Richter's post also seems a little muddled about what genocide he's talking about. Does he mean that Ahmadinjad is inciting Iranians to become terrorists in Israel and the Palestinian Territories as a way to kill Jews? Or is Richter referring to genocide against Jews through state violence by Iran against Israel, in the form of a nuclear strike?