Thoughts on Genocide and our Planet

Nellie massacre

Snapshots from the UN Genocide Convention

The UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide – CPPCG for short – is an international treaty, which was the direct outcome of the atrocities in Germany and elsewhere, during of World War II. CPPCG was unanimously adopted by the UN General Assembly in December 1948. It stands ratified by 152 countries (State Parties) including India.

The provisions of CPPCG are widely considered to be binding on all nations, whether or not they are Parties. However, national governments retain the power to reject an accusation of genocide threatened or occurring within their boundaries.

Two important provisions of CPPCG are:

  • Article-IV establishes a duty on State Parties to take measures to prevent and punish the crime of genocide, including by enacting relevant legislation and punishing perpetrators, “whether they are constitutionally responsible rulers, public officials or private individuals”.
  • Article-VI holds that accountability for genocide is the jurisdiction not only of the State in whose territory the crime is committed, but also of an “international penal tribunal as may have jurisdiction with respect to those Contracting Parties which shall have accepted its jurisdiction”.

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) has repeatedly stated that CPPCG embodies principles that are part of general customary international law, and ruled that the principles underlying CPPCG represent an unassailable norm against genocide, that no government can suppress or abrogate. Also, as customary international law, such obligations are binding on all States, whether or not they have ratified CPPCG, which criminalizes complicity, attempt, or incitement of genocide.

The foregoing is not only about a country reporting or flagging threatened or occurring genocide in another country. An appeal from the UN concerning CPPCG, also envisages a role for civil society, to advocate with States that have ratified the Convention, “to domesticate and implement it, including through developing mechanisms and structures for the prevention of genocide”.

What is “genocide”?

CPPCG Article-II describes genocide, as a crime committed with the intent to destroy a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, in whole or in part.

To constitute genocide, there must be a proven intent on the part of perpetrators, to physically destroy a national, ethnical, racial or religious group of people. Cultural destruction does not suffice, nor does an intention to simply disperse a group.

History of genocide

The Rise and Fall of the Third Chimpanzee” by Jared Diamond (1991), traces genocides between 1492 and 1950. The tabulated data is below.

They show the identity and numbers of victims of genocide, the identity of the perpetrators, and the period for which genocide continued. In worst cases, genocide victims in millions were hunted and killed over centuries, due to a combination of the ethnicity, religion and politics of the perpetrators vis-a-vis the victim communities.

The genocides in the period 1900 to 1946, all in Europe, are particularly horrendous, because perpetrators are (Nazi) Germans, Russians, Turks, etc., who claim to be “civilized”.


Closer home

The Partition of India in 1947, resulted in genocide of Hindus and Sikhs by Muslims and vice versa, as populations in millions migrated in both directions across borders.

In more recent times, there have been more genocidal civilizational blots on our history. The triggering events for these genocidal crimes are not relevant, since a crime is a crime is a crime, but it is relevant to note that they were some combination of ethnicity, religion and politics. Some of these genocidal events are:

# The Nellie (Assam) ethnic-political riots in February 1983, when 2,000+ Bengal-origin Muslims were killed in 6-hours.

# The 1984 anti-Sikh pogrom of ethnic and religious persecution; 8,000+ Sikhs were killed, many injured, mostly in Delhi.

# In February–March 1990, the majority of Kashmiri Hindu population (approximately 100,000 of 140,000) fled their homes in Kashmir valley, due to political and religious persecution by Muslim fundamentalist groups, during which 90+ Kashmiri Hindus were killed.

# The Gujarat 2002 communal riots (also called anti-Muslim pogrom). In 3-days, deaths of 254 Hindus, and 1,000+ deaths, scores of rapings, and missing persons among Muslims, were recorded.

Ominous signs

The unstated but clearly apparent policy of the political party presently in power, is to promote Hinduism (the religion) as the ideology of Hindutva, which combines the religiosity of Hinduism bereft of its philosophical underpinnings, with the unabashed muscular politics of majoritarian nationalism. The purpose is to create a Hindu Rashtra, in which non-Hindus will need to accept second-class citizenship status. This policy has created a vigilante mindset, which targets non-Hindus in different ways, mostly with impunity.

The media reported an incident in Haridwar (Uttarakhand), of Hindu “sants” and other saffron-clad persons meeting together at Dharam Sansads, making speeches openly calling for killing of Muslims. They also publicly administered oath, which hundreds of participants took, to die and kill if necessary, to achieve the goal of Hindu Rashtra. Speakers also urged Army and Police personnel to take up arms to kill Muslims, and called for socio-economic boycott of Indian Muslims. Similar events have taken place in other States in our country.

These events are calls for genocide as defined by CPPCG. Complaints have been made to the President of India and the Prime Minister of India, and petitions filed in the Supreme Court of India.

However, these events cannot be formally recognized as proven intent of genocidal threats and incitements, until the final outcome of the Petitions before the Supreme Court.


Genocidal violence is happening all over the world. Humans over generations, have failed to understand that we have to live together and co-exist with all life on our Planet.

At the risk of presuming on the readers’ time and patience, some cross-cultural ancient wisdom, medieval poetry and modern prose are offered, in the hope that the pervading atmosphere of fear, distrust, greed, hate and violence, which envelops our world, will be mitigated, if readers and especially Leaders, internalize it.

Vedic scriptures show the unity of humankind, in the Upanishadic concept of  वसुधैव कुटुम्बकम् (Vasudhaiva kutumbakam) – the family (kutumba) of all living and non-living things on Earth (vasudha) – and a shloka in Maha Upanishad (Ch.6-70), enjoins us to kindness towards all:

उदारः पेशलाचारः सर्वाचारानुवृत्तिमान् ।

अन्तःसङ्गपरित्यागी बहिःसंभारवानिव ।

अन्तर्वैराग्यमादाय बहिराशोन्मुखेहितः ॥

Translated into English, it means:

You should continue putting efforts and be caring towards everyone, while being kind and following the highest ideals under every possible circumstance. Behave with everyone in the best possible manner and be free of malice within your own conscience.

Omar Khayyam, 11th Century Sufi polymath, philosopher and poet, in Verse 18 of his Rubaiyat translated by Edward Fitzgerald, writes of conceited leaders and rulers and their self-serving pomp, who are merely transients on Earth, like everyone else:

Think, in this batter’d Caravanserai

Whose Doorways are alternate Night and Day,

How Sultan after Sultan with his Pomp

Abode his Hour or two, and went his way.

Today, we celebrate modern science. Carl Sagan, astronomer, astrophysicist, requested for the camera of NASA’s Voyager-1 space probe to be turned backwards onto Earth. As the camera showed Earth receding into a small dot in space, Sagan spoke:

“That’s here, that’s home, that’s us. On it, everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every superstar, every supreme leader, every saint and sinner in the history of our species, lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam. Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood, spilled by all those generals and emperors, so that in glory and triumph they could become the momentary masters of a fraction – of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner. How frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds! Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the Pale Blue Dot, the only home we’ve ever known”.

Major General S.G.Vombatkere retired as Additional Director General Discipline & Vigilance in Army HQ, New Delhi. He is a member of National Alliance of People’s Movements and People’s Union for Civil Liberties


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