Early warning signs of genocide

Mary Hunter
Friday, Feb 04, 2022

Footage across social media from last December showed both politicians and Hindu religious leaders attending an event in Haridwar, India where participants called for mass killings of Muslims. One woman, the general secretary of the Hindu Mahasabha, suggested that only 100 soldiers were required to kill 20 lakh (2 million).

The definition of genocide that is recognised by the UN includes the acts committed against a religious group “with intent to destroy” it “in whole or in part…” Therefore, the general secretary’s call amounts to incitement to, or encouragement of, genocide. The act of and incitement to genocide are disturbingly common of late, as manifested in the Rohingya genocide. There are also mounting tensions between Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbia, with the OHCHR expressing concern about the recent glorification of war criminals as well hate speech and incitement to violence. Gregory Stanton of GenocideWatch, who had warned of the Rwandan genocide before it happened, has said on the organisation’s website that there are “early warning signs of genocide” visible within India.

The point of identifying these early warning signs is to prevent the genocide from happening before it is too late. However, while only a few arrests have been made in connection with the event at Haridwar, many commentators have been shocked by the silence of the BJP government, under whose tenure Islamophobia has become increasingly normalised and unchallenged.

The UN’s Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, Juan Mendez, has said in an interview with Al Jazeera that the facts on the ground are serious enough that some expression of concern comes from the international forums like UN General Assembly, the UN Security Council (UNSC), and UN Human Rights Council. That should happen soon. If response from the Modi government isn’t appropriate then the UNSC should step in to protect Indian minorities and a resolution under Chapter 7 is the way to go for it.

Unsurprisingly, given India’s huge population, its minority populations are substantial. As of the 2011 census in India, Muslims constitute 14.23% of the population at 172 million, as compared to 13.4% in the 2001 census. Despite being a minority, the number of Muslims in India means that the country is home to the third largest Muslim population by country in the entire world. The percentage of India’s population who identified as Christian equated to 2.3% of the population in both the 2001 and 2011 censuses, though the group grew by around 4 million people to 28 million in 2011.

Regardless of the size of a country’s religious minorities, Stanton’s emphasis on genocide prevention should be on the top of every country’s agenda. Though he importantly reminds us that the earlier stages of genocide do not necessarily amount to genocide in isolation, like classification or discrimination, they remain issues that should be tackled to protect all of humanity and to prevent genocide.

Pakistan, like India, is blessed as a cradle of civilisation, only with smaller minority groups. The 2017 census, the data of which was released by the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics, found that Muslims accounted for 96.47% of the almost 208 million strong population. The largest minority was Hindus at almost 3.6 million people, followed by Christians at 2.6 million. Despite this disparity, Pakistan ought to note the trajectory of religious persecution and communal animosity in India because it is not free from religious tensions, like every country, which have the potential to lead to larger scale acts of violence if they are not addressed. Let us take the first stage of the “10 Stages of Genocide,” which does not yet amount to genocide, which has led to instances of the third stage, discrimination, in Pakistan.

This first stage is ‘classification’ whereby a distinction is made between ‘us’ and ‘them,’ which, in the case of Pakistan, would be the Muslims and the remainder of the religious minorities, notably in terms of size, the Hindus, Christians and Ahmadis, as Ahmadis are not considered Muslims by the state of Pakistan. While Stanton importantly adds that classification is not in itself a crime, because it is a natural way that our minds work, classification should not be for the purpose of ‘othering’ or xenophobia. To prevent this, countries should re-evaluate long-standing laws and constitutional statements which have the potential to facilitate othering and then discrimination.

One aspect, in this sense, might be the Objectives Resolution of Pakistan’s Constitution. It was rejected by minority members of the Constituent Assembly in 1949, who claimed that it betrayed the secular vision that Jinnah had for the state of Pakistan because it framed the Constitution on the Islamic faith. On the subject of minorities, it speaks generally of ensuring “adequate provision” to ensure their freedom of religion and to “safeguard” their “legitimate interests.” These statements were not considered sufficient to ameliorate the concerns of the minority members.

The ideological influence of the Islamic thinker, Maulana Maududi, on this text is undeniable. Pakistan is not an Islamic state in the sense that he had wished it to be. In his lectures and works, Maududi stated that there are two kinds of citizenship within an Islamic state: Muslims and Zimmis (non-Muslims), and that the latter would be “exempt” from the “responsibility of defending and running the state” in accordance with the principles of Islam. He therefore believed in discrimination in employment based on religious affiliation.

Pakistan’s Constitution and penal code classify degrees of religious freedom according to what is considered Islamic and what is considered “anti-Islamic.” This represents how classification becomes discrimination. Pakistan can save lives by re-evaluating its treatment of its religious minorities in the penal code.

The lives of Christians are also at risk. Just a few days ago, a Christian priest was killed and another injured by gunmen in Peshawar as they drove from church to home. No group has claimed responsibility for this reprehensible crime yet. Even if it is an isolated incident, Christians like Ahmadis are discriminated against, which will undoubtedly foster anti-Christian sentiment among the general population. For example, as articulated by Maududi above, the Constitution of Pakistan prevents non-Muslims from being elected to the offices of President and Prime Minister. While Maududi suggested that non-Muslims were “exempt” from defending the nation, it is important to note that religious minorities have been serving in the Pakistani Army over the past two decades. Just as the Pakistani Army has the power to empower women, as it is at least through the example of Lieutenant General Nigar, it can also help with the acceptance of religious minorities by extending its intake of religious minorities. Not only would this tackle discrimination, but it would encourage greater tolerance within society and would benefit the nation by allowing its best and brightest, regardless of religion, to serve and defend Pakistan.

Another step from classification to discrimination which is causing concern internationally is the blasphemy laws in Pakistan. I have written on this previously in the context of the TLP and the murder of Priyantha Kumara, warning that vigilante killings by members of the public in response to alleged blasphemy shows that Prime Minister Imran Khan has to put meaningful steps in place for the protection of Pakistan’s religious minorities. Especially if he wants to be taken seriously when he decries the Islamophobia against Muslim minorities on the international stage. Such meaningful steps might include a re-evaluation of blasphemy laws inherited by the British, as well as laws instituted under the likes of General Zia ul-Haq.

Holocaust Memorial Day is held each year on the 27th January as a poignant reminder of one of the darkest chapters of human existence. Yet the human tendency to forget the past and its lessons remains disturbingly apparent today. Every country should be aware of the early warning signs of genocide to ensure its prevention. While genocide is by no means on Pakistan’s horizons, the country must consider how its religious minorities are being treated, as determined by its Constitution and laws which shape the nation’s identity. The trajectory of Islamophobia and anti-Christian sentiment in India unfortunately represents a warning for countries who fail to identify and tackle harmful escalations from the first stage of classification.

The writer is a researcher and is currently undertaking a PhD. She tweets @MaryFloraHunter.