“I do want to wish Eid Mubarak to millions of Muslims across the world,” said Australian Greens Senator Dr Mehreen Faruqi, as she addressed those gathered at the Sydney Free Palestine rally on 15 May.
“But I do so with a very heavy heart, because I also know that Muslims around the world are suffering under oppression, including the Kashmiris, the Rohingyas, the Uyghurs and, especially, the Palestinians.”
Common to all the Muslim ethnic groups mentioned is that the regional governments that rule over them have been carrying out systematic campaigns of violence against them, which amount to the act of genocide: the mass extermination of a particular group of people.
The pro-Palestinian rally took place last Saturday following week-long Israeli air strikes having pounded the Palestinian population living within the open air prison that is Gaza: a region suffering under a 14 year commercial blockade, with shattered infrastructure and dwindling fresh water.
And it was lost upon no one gathered at Sydney Town Hall that the ground they were standing on was stolen land and the site where the act of genocide had been perpetrated against the Gadigal people of the Eora nation.
The rally had been called prior to the current escalation in violence in Gaza that has seen 200 Palestinian civilians killed, as it was initially called to mark the 73rd anniversary of the 1948 al-Nakba – the catastrophe – which saw 700,000 Palestinians forced from their homes by Israelis forces.
Writer Randa Abdel-Fattah told those gathered in Sydney that “Nakba is not a noun. It is not an event. It is a verb. It is happening every single day.”
These statements evoke the understanding that there’s an ongoing elimination process being perpetrated upon the Palestinian people by “the apartheid settler colonial state that is Israel”, which can further be classed as genocide.
Since the state of Israel came into being on 15 May 1948, Palestinians have been displaced and pushed into enclaves. They’ve been incarcerated in large numbers, which includes children, while multiple laws have been passed making them second class citizens in their own homeland.
The Netanyahu regime continues to promote Israelis making further encroachments into Palestinian-held land in the West Bank to set up illegal settlements.
While, currently, the push to evict Palestinian families from their homes in the Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah constitutes ethnic cleansing.
The crime of genocide
Polish lawyer of Jewish descent Raphael Lemkin coined the term genocide in 1943. He did so in the wake of Nazi Germany’s attempt to annihilate Jewish peoples during the Second World War, in what’s now referred to as the Holocaust, which saw 6 million people killed.
Lemkin had already been working to establish an international crime of mass murder for a number of decades prior to the war. And his work led to the establishment of the 1948 UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.
Article 2 of the Convention defines genocide as “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group”. These acts include “killing members of the group” and “causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group”.
Further acts classed as genocidal are the deliberate inflicting upon the group “conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part”, as well as “imposing measures intended to prevent births” and “forcibly transferring children of the group to another group”.
This definition was adopted by the 1998 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. As a state party to the Statute, Australia was required to establish genocide as a crime within its domestic law. And today, the offence of genocide is contained in division 268 of the Criminal Code (Cth).
In 1998, Hutu politician Jean Paul Akayesu became the first person convicted of genocide for his part in the 1994 Rwandan massacre, while 29 more Rwandans have since been convicted of the crime. Two Bosnian Serb commanders and two Khmer Rouge leaders have also been convicted of genocide.
The genocide in Sri Lanka
Protesters also gathered at Sydney Town Hall on 16 May to demonstrate against the ongoing genocide of the Tamil people of Sri Lanka. The rally marked 12 years since the Mullivaikkal massacre, which saw 70,000 Tamil civilians slaughtered by the Sri Lankan government.
But as Tamil Refugee Council spokesperson Barathan Vidhyapathy told those gathered at the rally, Tamil people in northern Sri Lanka continue to be subjected to deep repressions with the number of police officers stationed in the area constituting one for every six Tamils.
The decades-long conflict between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the Sri Lankan government – which represents the nation’s Sinhalese majority – looked set to end peacefully as settlement negotiations were taking place over 2002 to 2006.
However, in late 2008, Sri Lankan forces led an offensive into the Tamil majority northern territories, where the LTTE sought to establish the independent state of Tamil Eelam.
This led to the May 2009 massacre that saw thousands of civilians gathered in government-guaranteed safety no-fly zones being wiped out by Colombo’s forces.
“Twelve years have passed since this horror, yet blood-soaked war criminals – who remain responsible for the genocidal killings – remain in senior positions of leadership within the military and government,” said Vidhyapathy.
“North eastern Sri Lanka remains one of the most heavily militarised regions in the world.”
An extermination program
In his recently released documentary Exterminate All the Brutes, Haitian filmmaker Raoul Peck makes the case that genocide – along with civilisation and colonisation – is a key component of the five-centuries-old European expansion project.
So, rather than the attempt to exterminate First Peoples by European invaders so they’re lands could be acquired being an avoidable and regrettable outcome, the act of genocide is seen to be a core motivation of the settler colonial project.
Peck further posits that while Germany is held up as the quintessential European perpetrator of the atrocity crime, the truth of the matter is that the Nazis were perpetuating an act that runs right through the colonisation of the Americas and drives to the heart of the United States.
While the filmmaker doesn’t explore the colonisation of Australia, he does visit the New York City Public Library, where a list of the world’s genocides throughout history is kept.
The list contains 41 genocides in total. Genocide number 38 is that of the First Nations peoples of Tasmania. Number 41 is the “natives of Australia”.
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Paul Gregoire is a Sydney-based journalist and writer. He has a focus on human rights issues, encroachments on civil liberties, drug law reform, gender diversity and First Nations rights. Prior to Sydney Criminal Lawyers®, he wrote for VICE and was the news editor at Sydney’s City Hub.