Director of Service Prosecutions and former United Nations International Prosecutor Andrew Cayley CMG QC FRSA made a ‘call to arms’ as he addressed the audience as the latest guest speaker at the LJMU Roscoe lecture series.
Mr Cayley gave a presentation entitled Prosecuting Genocide: The Crime of Crimes, discussing his experiences of investigating and prosecuting genocide in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Sudan and Cambodia.
He chose to share the ‘sheer unmitigated truth’ of these atrocities, which had taken place during many of the audience members own lifetimes, to provide a true reflection of a dark history.
Genocide was first recognised as a crime under international law by the United Nations General Assembly in 1946.
The crime was then codified by the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.
The heart of the offence is targeted actions aimed at the destruction of a national, ethnic, racial or religious group.
Mr Cayley described how genocide in the former Yugoslavia had taken place on an indescribable scale, the evidence of sexual violence in Darfur was the worst he’d ever heard or seen and how the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia had even banned love between human beings as they feared its influence.
He said: “We can draw the obvious conclusions about human race. Our atavistic fear of one another, our tendency to extreme violence and destruction particularly under the stresses of conflict, the ease with which we seem to lose our own humanity and with that all those higher noble qualities we all possess – mercy, compassion, forgiveness our love for each other as members of the human race.”
However, he also chose to highlight the very best of what it means to be human in all of these cases.
He spoke about a 17-year-old boy who had escaped death as 1,500 men and boys were massacred in Petkovci Dam, Bosnia who later went on to give evidence at the Yugoslav Tribunal. The witness known as ‘O’ recounted how he was taken to the execution site and shot, but was able to show forgiveness in the face of unimaginable horror.
Witness O stated: “If I had the right and the courage, in the name of all those innocents and all those victims, I would forgive the actual perpetrators of the executions, because they were misled.”
Mr Cayley, talked about Dr Halima Bashir who worked in a remote clinic in Darfur and was responsible for the treatment school girls who had been subjected to extreme violence following an attack by Arab militia forces at their primary school. She was interviewed by the United Nations following the attack, which led to her arrest and torture by Sudanese secret police. Nevertheless she went on to share her story through her book Tears in the Desert and speaks with strength and dignity to ensure that these events are never forgotten.
He also mentioned Hout Bophana a Cambodian woman who continued to write letters to her lover Ly Sitha after the Khmer Rouge seized power in 1975 and the pair were separated. Despite the ban on love they remained fiercely loyal to one another and their commitment could not be extinguished.
While Mr Cayley conceded that the mere existence of global laws including the international prohibition on genocide, will not prevent crimes against humanity happening in the future. The International Criminal Court does have the power to enforce previously unenforceable laws, but absolute effective prohibition is a much longer game.
He encouraged the audience to remember these events, but not to dwell on them and to tell their children when they are old enough to comprehend.
Mr Cayley said: “Not to shock them or upset them, but as a call to arms so we can resist these things together and move on in the right direction.
“In remembering, in being aware, we cannot stop it all happening again, but naïve as I may sound, I do believe that being aware, by never forgetting, by teaching and of course by very strictly enforcing these laws that prohibit these terrible crimes we can begin to reduce the risk of this cynical inevitability of endlessly destroying each other from age to age.”
Listen to his lecture here -WARNING: This audio contains disturbing content that may be upsetting to some listeners.