THE ISSAM FARES INSTITUTE FOR PUBLIC POLICY AND INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS
Pathways to Lasting Justice: Addressing Genocide and Ending Human Rights Violations in the Middle East
AGBU Lebanon, in collaboration with IFI and Lepsius Haus Potsdam, held a webinar titled “Pathways to Lasting Justice: Addressing Genocide and Ending Human Rights Violations in the Middle East” on December 7, 2023 to coincide with the International Day of Commemoration and Dignity of the Victims of the Crime of Genocide and its Prevention. The webinar consisted of two panels, “The International Protection System in MENA” and its role in preventing, ending, and punishing human rights violations against minorities in the region, and “Media and Public Opinion” to highlight their role in ending all forms of human rights violations.
The first panel gathered Natia Navrouzov, an International Lawyer and Consultant, Sheila Paylan, International Human Rights Lawyer and former UN Legal Advisor, and Rami Khouri, IFI Distinguished Fellow, moderated by Paulo Irani, a UN International Investigator.
Sheila Paylan discussed the conflict between Armenians and Azerbaijan, highlighting the commonalities shared with the Palestinian crisis. In September, Azerbaijan launched an attack on Armenians, employing tactics similar to those used in Gaza, such as restricting access to water and food. After 24 hours of heavy bombardment, Armenian authorities surrendered, leading to a forced displacement of Armenians. Azerbaijan acknowledged its ethnic cleansing intent, and Armenia pursued legal action, facing challenges as the courts lacked convicting power. Paylan emphasized the need to push back against regimes that ignore the law, as leaders get away because of the culture of impunity. Thus, the role of civil society is key in holding regimes and perpetrators accountable. Paylan concluded that at the international level, there must be cooperation and enforcement to attain international peace and security.
Natia Navrouzov and as part of her work with the Yazidi community in Iraq, highlighted how a genocide also happens when cultural heritage, including libraries are destroyed. While some countries have recognized the genocide of Yazidis, justice has been limited, with only three convictions in Germany. Efforts for international convictions have faced challenges in Iraq. For instance, UNITAD, a UN mechanism, was created to operate by interviewing the Yazidis. However, Iraq hasn’t taken steps against genocidal cases, and trust issues hindered the cooperation with UN staff. The future of International Criminal Court (ICC) in Iraq is uncertain, which is distressing for survivors particularly due to difficulties in seeking justice in countries like Germany, where they face language barriers and a lack of understanding of related laws.
Meanwhile, Rami Khouri portrayed the Palestinian situation in the context of genocidal actions by Zionists and Israel, which has been ongoing for around a century. He explored the historical aspects of land theft, displacement, cultural erosion, and loss of human life, noting that genocide is an ongoing process with multiple dimensions and tools. Khouri discussed the ongoing accusations against Israel with regards to genocide in Gaza, stating that Israel meets at least three of the criteria of genocide set by the UN: intent, incitement and action. As for legal actions, Palestinian groups have started to explore the use of international justice systems; others started to take court actions by accusing other countries of being complicit in the genocide. As for Israel’s right to defend itself, Khouri argued that in law, there is no criteria for self-defence; thus, a genocide isn’t justified. Khouri also touched upon the importance of International Criminal Law, arguing that the ICC isn’t taken seriously in the MENA region. He concluded that political activism is highly significant in holding accountable those accused of genocidal actions.
The second panel, moderated by Marie Jose Daoud, Head of Features at L’Orient Today, included Arwa Damon, Senior International Correspondent and Founder/President of INARA, Karlos Zurutuza, a Freelance Journalist and Media Trainer, and Taline Oundjian, Armenia Correspondent at France 24.
Arwa Damoun, reflected on her 15 years of experience as a journalist, arguing that the media can fight and bleed to cover genocides without being able to stop or prevent it. For instance, in Syria journalists used to crawl to be able to prove that civilians were being targeted, which raises the question whether coverage has the power to prevent this. Despite the reporting, without a greater political will that media has no control over, the media cannot do anything. Damon emphasized the central role that local networks and journalists play in providing information. At CNN, where the continuity of reporting is challenging, Damon used to connect with local journalist in order to sell the news in a powerful way, hoping that the story remained in the headlines.
Karlos Zurutuza shared Damon’s view on the importance of local journalists by reflecting on his experience, particularly when it comes to reporting from the ground. For example, in the case of Armenia, local journalists don’t have the tools to reach international media; thus, it is important to train local media. Moreover, the location of Armenia was a debatable topic, whether it’s in the Middle East or Europe. As a result, during the war in Karabakh, it was difficult to sell the stories due to budget issues. When asked about instances when there was a need for twisting stories to sell the news, Zurutuza argued that TV reporting is different from freelance reporting because it’s no longer about twisting stories but rather about getting them to be streamed in the first place.
From her end, Taline Oundjian addressed the challenges that local journalists face, which is the lack of access to international news. She also explained how being ethnically linked to a conflict might raise concerns about holding bias, which brings the issue of self-censorship into play. However, Oundjian argued that local journalists can be critical of themselves, and this emotional link can be productive in being accurate about the type of information being produced. Oundjian noted the responsibility that local journalists bear in pushing their stories.
Director of Lepsius Haus Potsdam Roy Knocke wrapped up the webinar by stressing that sustainable development and stable democratic institutions in the MENA region can only be achieved when lethal and non-lethal conflicts are solved politically. While he acknowledged the challenging aspect of preventing genocide, he believed there was hope that could be possible with civil society and independent media.
You can access the full conference report here and the recording of the webinar here.