Crimes Against Humanity, Genocide, and War Crimes
When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; but they did not receive him, because his face was toward Jerusalem. When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, "Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them" But he turned and rebuked them.-Luke 9:51-56 NRSV
"We confess that as Christians we too have responded to religious and ethnic differences out of fear, ignorance, and even hatred. We have too quickly resorted to violence as a means of resolving conflicts.
"The rising tide of violence in the world threatens to engulf communities, nations, and world civilizations. It is time for the church to become proactive in resolving conflict nonviolently and developing alternatives to violence."
"The Church's Response to Ethnic and Religious Conflict,"Resolution #81, BOR 2004.
Seeking nonviolent conflict resolution and alternatives to violence, the Council of Bishops, in June 2004, offered a discussion guide "In Search of Security" that reminded United Methodists that "Our Christian ethic tells us: 'If you want peace, work for justice.' This is the course we should pursue in search for security. . . . Security in the perspective of faith 'is a state of being that flows from the inclusion of all in the bounty of the earth. Security is meant for all and results from a concern of each one for the other. Security results from a concern for the common good and the promotion of solidarity between nations and peoples. Security stems from a recognition and defense of basic human rights. . . .' "
The Social Principles of The United Methodist Church (¶ 165C, "War and Peace") states that "We believe war is incompatible with the teachings and example of Christ . . . and insist that the first moral duty of all nations is to resolve by peaceful means every dispute that arises between or among them." In the same paragraph The United Methodist Church also states, "We therefore reject war as an instrument of national foreign policy, to be employed only as a last resort in the prevention of such evils as genocide, brutal suppression of human rights, and unprovoked international aggression."
How and who will determine when "the last resort" has been reached and war becomes the only way to stop "such evils as genocide, brutal suppression of human rights, and unprovoked international aggression" The international community has been wrestling with that concern. The 2005 World Summit at the United Nations agreed upon a number of actions as global challenges including a concept emerging since 2001 the International Responsibility to Protect, which states that it is the "clear and unambiguous acceptance by all governments of the collective international responsibility to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. Willingness to take timely and decisive collective action for this purpose, through the Security Council, when peaceful means prove inadequate and national authorities are manifestly failing to do it."
In 2006 the Ninth Assembly of the World Council of Churches (WCC) noted that Responsibility to Protect has "shifted the debate from the viewpoint of the interveners to that of the people in need of assistance, thus defining sovereignty as a duty-bearer status. . . . States can no longer hide behind the pretext of sovereignty to perpetrate human rights violations against their citizens and live in total impunity. . . . [T]he responsibility to protect and serve the welfare of its people is central to a state's sovereignty. When there is failure to carry out that responsibility, whether by neglect, lack of capacity, or direct assaults on the population, the international community has the duty to assist peoples and states, and in extreme situations, to intervene in the internal affairs of the state in the interests and safety of the people."
In the twenty-first century as in the twentieth the atrocities during war and peacetime have been and continue to be directed against civilians. The participants at the Ninth Assembly of the WCC called attention to the "cries arising daily in their home countries and regions due to disasters, violent conflicts and conditions of oppression and suffering." But, the Assembly participants knowing that they were empowered by God remained committed " . . . to bear witness to transformation in personal lives, churches, societies and the world as a whole." In other words, "if you want peace, work for justice." "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good" (Romans 12:21).
It becomes imperative that the international community find peaceful means to exercise its responsibility to protect and never as a "last resort" have to go to war or even intervene militarily. But, "ending violence and wars, and checking impunity and disregard for international human rights and humanitarian laws" will require more than political will and moral courage. Concrete programs and mechanisms are needed to realize the totality of human rights-civil, political, social, economic, and cultural." One of those mechanisms is the new International Criminal Court, which has been set up to bring to justice individuals who commit war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide, and the crime of aggression.
It becomes imperative for United Methodists to clarify the definitions of these international crimes and understand existing means for pursuing the perpetrators and caring for the victims.
War Crimes, according to Article 8, paragraph 2, subparagraph (a) of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, are defined, "For the purpose of this Statute, 'war crimes' means: Grave breaches of the Geneva Convention of 12 August 1949, namely, any of the following acts against persons or property protected under the provisions of the relevant Geneva Convention:
i) Willful killing;
ii) Torture or inhuman treatment including biological experiments;
iii) Willfully causing great suffering, or serious injury to body or health;
iv) Extensive destruction and appropriation of property, not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly;
v) Compelling a prisoner of war or other protected person to serve in the forces of a hostile Power;
vi) Willfully depriving a prisoner of war or other protected person of the rights of fair and regular trial;
vii) Unlawful deportation or transfer or unlawful confinement;
viii) Taking of hostages."
Article 8, paragraph 2, subparagraph b) adds "Other serious violations of the laws and customs applicable in international armed conflict, within the established framework of international law, namely, any of the following acts: i) Intentionally directing attacks against the civilian population as such or against individual civilians not taking direct part in hostilities. . . ."
Crimes Against Humanity are: "namely, murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation, and other inhumane acts committed against civilian populations, before or during war; or persecutions on political, racial or religious grounds in execution of or in connection with any crime within the jurisdiction of the Tribunal, whether or not in violation of the domestic law of the country where perpetrated . . . " This definition was established by the Allies and the USA and was contained in Article 6) of the Charter of the International Military Tribunal (IMT) sitting in Nuremberg in 1945. While no specialized convention was ever developed on crimes against humanity, such a category of crimes has been included in the International Tribunals for both the Former Yugoslavia and for Rwanda as well as in the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.
The International Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide defines genocide as any act "committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, as such: Killing members of the group; Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group."
Ethnic Cleansing is a "purposeful policy designed by one ethnic or religious group to remove by violent and terror-inspiring means the civilian population of another ethnic or religious group from certain geographic areas. . . . This purpose appears to be the occupation of territory to the exclusion of the purged group or groups." Many resolutions of the United Nations Security Council declare ethnic cleansing to be a violation of international humanitarian law and demand that perpetrators be brought to justice.
Crimes against humanity, war crimes, and genocide all come under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and perpetrators are being brought before the court. In 2005 the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 1593 referring the crimes against humanity, committed in the tragic conflict in Darfur, to the ICC. In 2007 the court's prosecutor named two Sudanese leaders for atrocities in Darfur.
In 2005 the World Council of Churches affirmed the establishment of the ICC as "the most important step forward in International Law. . . . The Court provides the international community with an instrument to defend human rights and pursue justice for specified crimes that otherwise would be committed with impunity. . . ." United Methodists first expressed their support for the Court in the 2000 General Conference. Twenty-five countries where there is a United Methodist Church have ratified the Rome Statute on which the court is based before it entered into force in July 2002. One hundred and four states have ratified as of January 2007.
Therefore, The United Methodist Church must search for ways to be a "witness to transformation in personal lives, churches, societies and the world as a whole" and pursue the elimination of violence, war, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and genocide in each of our societies and throughout the world. United Methodists are urged to continue participating in the World Council of Churches' (WCC) Decade to Overcome Violence: Churches Seeking Reconciliation and Peace 2001-2010 and the Council's worldwide mobilization of churches for peace, which will culminate with an International Ecumenical Peace Convocation in May 2011.
The United Methodist Church must urge United Methodists to pray, to gather in study groups to learn about the degrading effects that war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide have on the victims, the perpetrators, and those who silently stand by. United Methodists must initiate actions against impunity associated with violations of international humanitarian law by, among others, campaigning in all nations to ratify the Rome Statute especially in those countries where there are United Methodists such as the USA, Russia and Ukraine, Czech Republic, Republic of Macedonia, Philippines, Cote d'Ivoire, Algeria, Angola, Mozambique, Sudan, and Zimbabwe, which have only signed the statute (Macedonia has neither signed nor ratified).
The United Methodist Church calls on the Council of Bishops, all agencies, commissions, local churches, districts, annual and central conferences to witness to the urgent need to stop the destruction of life and to seek resources, develop resources, and share resources, in as many languages as possible and through the varied means available in The United Methodist Church. Such resources should enable members of The United Methodist Church to:
a) remain informed and work toward the prevention of conflicts, atrocities, violence, and suffering that is borne by millions of people in the world;
b) participate in the World Council of Churches' mobilization of the churches for peace and join other organizations and movements that struggle for peace with justice;
c) assure the presence and participation of the Church in those places where people need protection and humanitarian aid. Mindful, that if external intervention, hopefully nonviolent or using force only in rare circumstances, is involved "churches should nevertheless be engaged in increasing the capacity of the local people to be able to intervene themselves by strengthening structures of the civil society and modern public-private partnerships, in terms of prevention as well as protection. Churches are called to offer their moral authority for mediation between differently powerful actors";
d) remain informed on the work of the International Criminal Court and become supportive of the court's work; and
e) support organizations working for human rights and be watchful and critical of the new Human Rights Council of the United Nations as it develops its new structures and procedures.
See Social Principles, ¶ 165C and D.
From The Book of Resolutions of The United Methodist Church - 2008. Copyright © 2008 by The United Methodist Publishing House. Used by permission.