The Forgotten Genocides

March 8, 2013 — “As long as I live, it is my duty is to fight anti-Semitism and to explain what can happen when there is such a genocide as the one that Hitler committed,” said Jacqueline Birn, who was a young Jewish girl living in Paris when the Germans invaded France in 1940. “I hope that my few words can enlighten people about what happened to the six million Jews.”

What happened to her family cannot be reduced to a brief speech, Birn told students and guests at a colloquium on genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, which was held at the Law Center on March 1. Birn related how she, her parents and sister narrowly missed being among the 13,000 Jews rounded up by the Nazis in Paris and how they fled to Vichy-controlled southern France to hide for the duration of the war.

Birn is one of the lucky ones: not only because she survived but also because she is recognized as a survivor. The event, sponsored by Georgetown Law’s O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law and Human Rights Action, showed that even the genocide of more than a million people — which happened in Armenia in 1915 — can be all too easily ignored or forgotten.

Two to three million people in Biafra died in the late 1960s when Kanayo Odeluga was growing up there and Biafra’s attempt to secede from Nigeria led to a blockade and civil war. Odeluga’s college-educated father, who had worked in the United Nations, watched helplessly as the people around him starved to death.

“Before Rwanda, before Ethiopia, this is what the world was confronted with, but a deadly silence descended all over the world,” Odeluga said. “Everybody was playing politics while we were dying."

Students including Eze Eluchie (LL.M.’13) — himself a survivor of the Biafran genocide — led panels featuring survivors of the genocides in Cambodia, Guatemala and Darfur; Montenegro Ambassador Ardjan Darmanovic; Professor Gregg Bloche (who discussed why torture happens) and other experts. “Until we are able to address the ghosts in our past, we can hardly move forward,” said Eluchie, who organized the day's event.

A webcast can be viewed here.