ON January 12, 2021, a US congressional briefing on the ‘Call for Genocide of Indian Muslims’ was organised by 17 American civil society groups, including the Indian American Muslim Council. As part of the five-member panel invited to speak at the briefing, Professor Gregory H. Stanton, founder of the US-based nonprofit organisation ‘Genocide Watch’, spoke about the threat of impending genocide in India.
A Fulbright Scholar with degrees in both law and anthropology, Dr. Stanton is a former research professor in Genocide Studies & Prevention at the George Mason University in Virginia, USA.
Dr. Stanton served in the United States’ State Department from 1992 to 1999, where he drafted the United Nations Security Council resolutions that created the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, the Burundi Commission of Inquiry, and the Central African Arms Flow Commission. He also drafted the U.N. Peacekeeping Operations resolutions that helped bring about an end to the Mozambique civil war. Prior to this, Stanton was a legal advisor to RUKH, the Ukrainian independence movement. He was the chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) Young Lawyers Division Committee on Human Rights and a member of the ABA’s Standing Committee on World Order Under Law. As founder and president of the Genocide Watch organisation founded in 1999, Stanton helped co-ordinate the Alliance Against Genocide, made up of over 90 organizations from around the world. This was the first coalition of organizations focused on preventing genocide.
In 2004, he published a proposal to establish an Office for Genocide Prevention at the UN, following which UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan announced the creation of the Office of the UN Special Advisor for the Prevention of Genocide. From 2007 to 2009 he was the President of the International Association of Genocide Scholars.
After the congressional event, The Leaflet met with professor Stanton online to discuss his speech and future plans for Genocide Watch. Excerpts of the interview are below:
Q. You had warned of India as a site of impending genocide in the recent US Congressional briefing, the news of which is now being covered and shared. Could you describe how you arrived at this conclusion, and explain the Ten Stage methodology for determining genocide in the context of India?
A. We have already, of course, issued several genocide, emergency warnings on India in the past. In 2002, we issued one after the Gujarat massacre. And we called for investigations and for holding those who are accountable for those massacres. And in particular, we were interested in the then Chief Minister of Gujarat, Narendra Modi. In fact, this is not widely known in India. But I was the person who called Mary Ryan, who was the head of consular affairs at the US State Department. After this massacre, I learned that Modi was going to come to speak at a meeting in Florida. And I knew his record in Gujarat. I called Mary Ryan, who was a personal friend in the State Department and I talked to her about Modi, and I said, “You should lift this man’s visa, he has participated in crimes against humanity and genocide.” And she did it. So I am directly responsible for his visa being removed for 10 years. This is how early we (Genocide Watch) see these things coming.
When the autonomous status of Jammu and Kashmir was lifted, we also issued a genocide emergency alert because we had analyzed this using our ‘Ten Stages of Genocide’ model, which are, by the way, not linear. It’s very important to emphasize that these are ten processes that lead to genocide, and they often occur simultaneously. The word ‘stages’ is one I really in some ways regret having ever used, because it has a linearity implied in it. I should have just called them the ten processes of genocide. The reason we find this to be a useful model is because there’s a logic to the way genocide develops.Through comparative study of many, many genocides, I concluded, as early as 1987, that this process could actually be predicted, and that there were certain transformations that occur in a society. By the way, we are not saying that genocide is occurring in India right now, we are saying watch out for it, because all these processes right up to actual genocide are already there now.
Later, we issued a warning when the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) was passed, and when they began to do a census (the National Registry of Citizens or NRC) in Assam, with the objective of finding out who had come to Assam during the 1971 Bangladesh genocide. Probably 3 million people had come from Bangladesh into Assam and settled down and been there for 50 years or more. So there we were, in a situation where India was trying to reclassify its citizens especially in Assam, to deport these people who could not prove whether or not they had come in before 1971. My view is it violated the international refugee conventions and acts, but it was also a violation of the Indian constitution.
Now, if you apply this Ten Stages of Genocide model in the same way to what has been going on in India, you find that many political leaders are members of the RSS. The RSS and BJP leaders were even at the Haridwar rally where they called for arming Hindus to kill Muslims. You have that kind of direct involvement by leaders from the BJP, such as Ashwini Upadhyaya and Udita Tyagi who were at that Haridwar rally. So if there’s genocide in India, it won’t be carried out by the state; it will be carried out by mobs. So this is what worries me so much, that you already have involvement by political leaders and also, of course the RSS leaders.
In fact, it is a crime under the genocide convention, to have complicity in a genocide or to aid and abet a genocide. You don’t have to directly participate in it yourself. In fact, the very first person to be convicted of a genocide by the Rwandan tribunal, which I helped to set up, was the leader of a mayor of a town in Rwanda, who himself hadn’t killed anybody, hadn’t even raped anyone. And yet, he in many ways, organized a program of systematic rapes of all the Tutsi women in the place where he was mayor, and he was convicted of genocide.
There’s a logic to the way genocide develops.Through comparative study of many, many genocides, I concluded, as early as 1987, that this process could actually be predicted, and that there were certain transformations that occur in a society. By the way, we are not saying that genocide is occurring in India right now, we are saying watch out for it, because all these processes right up to actual genocide are already there now.
Q. You have spoken about the region of Jammu & Kashmir as well as Assam being of particular concern. Could you elaborate on these states particularly in light of the policies of the ruling BJP here?
A. First, I should probably just outline the ten stages, the ten processes. And I’ll show you why we’ve concluded that for Kashmir, each of those processes were already occurring. The first process – and this is only logic, it’s not meant to be linear – but the first process is classification, where you classify people into ‘Us’ versus ‘Them’.Classification doesn’t always lead to genocide, in fact, it usually doesn’t. When we name certain people, Sikhs, or Hindus, or Muslims that’s a form of classification. And it’s not necessarily going to lead to genocide at all. In fact, a diverse country like India, or like the United States, of course, we have these different names for different groups of people and so forth. But if the objective of a classification plan is to carry out discrimination against a group that is being classified, like how the CAA was specifically aimed against one group and the NRC that was also occurring at the same time, then you have a problem.
The symbolization in Kashmir was the second stage. Muslims have Muslim names, after all on ID cards. They have a Kashmiri language, they have certain kinds of dress, they worship in mosques and so forth. Such symbolization also doesn’t necessarily lead to genocide, it is just a way for us to know what group a person belongs to. But discrimination is the third logical stage in which a certain group is discriminated against. In this case, the Kashmiri Muslims were being discriminated against before 1990. And, frankly, through terrorist actions against the Hindu Pandits by extremists and radicals in Kashmir, they drove about a 100,000 Pandits out of Kashmir so there was a sense of resentment about that, especially amongst Hindu leaders in India.
The next stage is dehumanization. In Kashmir, Muslims were being called ‘terrorists’, ‘separatists’, ‘criminals’. They’re the words that were being used for Muslims in Kashmir, words that are used to dehumanize others. And dehumanization is vital for the whole genocide process because it means that the person who is cooperating with the genocide doesn’t feel that he’s doing evil because he’s convinced that these people are bad, or they should be eliminated from the population somehow.
Then we have the ‘organization’ stage in which we literally have 600,000, heavily armed Indian Army troops and police in Kashmir. If that isn’t organization, I don’t know what is. The next stage is polarization, in which Modi and the BJP leaders were inciting anti-Muslim hatred, people on social media were spreading falsehoods about Kashmiri Muslims and so forth.
The ‘preparation’ stage is where the Indian Army was occupying Kashmir and the BJP leaders were speaking of the “final solution”, that should send chills up your spine when you hear language like that. Kashmiri Muslims were also being persecuted, which is the next stage. They were subject to arrests, to torture, to rape, murder and imprisonment. A lot of the top leaders were thrown into prison or house-arrest after the state lost its autonomy. So you had all of those early stages of the genocide process in Kashmir. So that’s pretty serious when you have massacres of Muslims by Indian troops and massacres of Hindus by Muslim militants.
All of those reasons were why we declared a genocide emergency alert for Kashmir. And the final stage is always denial. In this case, the denial was in the form of PM Modi and the BJP saying that their goals were bringing prosperity, or they were ending terrorism and they were denying that any massacres or human rights violations had ever occurred.
Later when we saw what was happening in Assam, we had all of these processes. We haven’t, however, reached the point of such massacres as far as I know, in Assam. However, what we have is certainly the persecution stage, in which the Muslim population has been persecuted. Because of all these things, we made those declarations using the ‘Ten Stages of Genocide’ analysis.
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Q. Given the nature of India’s constitution, how do you think genocide can happen despite a secular framework and separation of powers with judicial independence?
A. I think the Indian Constitution like our own in the United States isn’t perfect but it’s nevertheless very good and in fact having an independent judiciary is crucial to how genocide could be stopped in India, I believe.
But when you have a majority trying to eliminate a minority, a lot of these (constitutional) protections seem to disappear. Now the US Supreme Court actually upheld the internment of Japanese citizens of the United States during the Second World War. Now they realize it was one of the worst decisions in history for the United States. We also had a Supreme Court that upheld slavery, it is actually written into our Constitution that slavery was part of the system when we were founded as a country. But then, Justice Taney, in the famous Dred Scott case, ruled that African Americans aren’t even citizens of the United States. So even in a democracy, you can exclude whole groups of people from your citizenship. That’s ‘classification’, by the way. And it is also, of course, discrimination, dehumanization and a number of the other stages. We have had it here in the US, we committed genocide against our own Native American population. And I think our country still is grappling with a serious systemic racism that was present at the beginning and is still present today.
But India, also, let’s face it, has many divisions, you have a caste system that just won’t go away. In spite of Gandhi’s efforts, you have some very difficulty overcoming kinds of divisions between Hindus and Muslims. The tensions are there, they’re under the surface sometimes, then they come to the surface. So that’s why in spite of the checks and balances, things are this way. In order for the constitution to be effective, it has to be applied. People who try to incite genocide need to be arrested, and put on trial for it. And that is how you use the police and the institution of the judiciary to stop the process. That’s what I hope will happen in India.
I think the Indian Constitution like our own in the United States isn’t perfect but it’s nevertheless very good and in fact having an independent judiciary is crucial to how genocide could be stopped in India, I believe. But when you have a majority trying to eliminate a minority, a lot of these (constitutional) protections seem to disappear.
Q. Your organisation has been one of the first to predict the Rwandan Genocide, and you also met the Rwandan president prior to events there. Do you see any similarities between the events that took place during your time in Rwanda with those in India today? Particularly, the role of the Indian media and parallels, if any, with the Rwandan radio’s role in propagating incendiary speech?
A. I do, in fact, yes. The hate speech had already begun in Rwanda when I was living there in 1988, and 89. In fact, I was so shocked by it that I organized a conference in Rwanda, and invited representatives from Congo, Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, and Burundi to come to this conference along with Rwandans to discuss how genocide develops, and how to prevent it. Now, I have to admit, it was probably the least successful conference I’ve ever sponsored. Because after all, only five years later the genocide occurred in Rwanda. But I also became very aware of some of these early warning signs because of my work in Cambodia. And I could see them already developing in Rwanda. One of them that was most evident were the ID cards. They actually had Tutsi, Hutu, Twa and ‘naturalized’ as the four categories of persons classified right on the ID cards. And I realized how dangerous that was.
And dehumanization is vital for the whole genocide process because it means that the person who is cooperating with the genocide doesn’t feel that he’s doing evil because he’s convinced that these people are bad, or they should be eliminated from the population somehow.
I was having dinner one night with Joseph Kavaruganda, who was the president of the Rwandan Supreme Court and a Hutu moderate. He was one of the first people killed during the genocide there. Because moderates from the perpetrator group are usually the first people to be killed because they are in the best place to actually stop a genocide. Well, Agathe Uwilingiyimana who was the Prime Minister and a Hutu moderate was also one of the first to be killed in the genocide. Anyway, this was in 1989, and Joseph Kavaruganda and I were talking about the ID cards, and I said that these could be used for genocide. He said that they already have been. And I said, “Well, can’t you declare the writing of ethnicities on these cards to be unconstitutional and get them abolished?” And he said, “No, we don’t have judicial review there.” So I was told to meet with President Habyarimana. So I went and had a meeting with President Habyarimana and we talked over some of the reforms needed in the judicial system. But we also then talked about these ID cards, and I said that these could be used for genocide. At that point, it was like a mask had fallen off. He didn’t want to hear this, he had no comment. So on the way out, I said to him, “I think a lot of the early warning signs of genocide are already here in your country, Mr. President, including the ID cards. And if you don’t do something to stop the genocide in this country, you will have a genocide here.”
That was 1989. And though it was undoubtedly a coincidence, but exactly five years later in 1994 the Rwandan genocide, broke out and killed 800,000 people.
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Anyway, yes, it was a prediction made long in advance of the Rwandan genocide, but it was based on a ten stage model which at that time was an eight stage model. It identifies the processes that lead to genocide, and is event-based, not some kind of statistical model that gives percentages and tries to rank countries. Instead, we look for what are the kinds of events that should alert us. And I do see these very same kinds of early warning signs in India.
Looking at the parallels between the role of media then and now, Facebook, for example, is playing a terrible role in India. The head of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t seem to have any conscience about what his platform does in places where it is unregulated or not controlled. We saw what happened in Myanmar, where Facebook was, effectively the internet in Myanmar, and in which extremist priests and other extremists from the Buddhist community attacked the Rohingya Muslims, calling them insects and that kind of thing. The Myanmar army even had its own Facebook team, 30 people who did nothing but post things and encourage hate speech on Facebook. We have similar kinds of groups in India using Facebook in the same way. I personally think Facebook should be sued for its complicity and its incitement to commit genocide in Myanmar. And we are pursuing that, by the way, in as many countries as we can. It’s not possible in the United States, because we have a law that essentially immunizes Facebook and Google and a lot of these other tech-platforms, but there are a lot of other countries that don’t have such laws. And that’s where we’re going to sue Facebook which should pay billions for what they did in Myanmar.
We look for what are the kinds of events that should alert us. And I do see these very same kinds of early warning signs in India…. I personally think Facebook should be sued for its complicity and its incitement to commit genocide in Myanmar.
Well, they’re unfortunately doing the same thing in Ethiopia, in India and in other countries too. Now there wasn’t a Facebook, of course, at the time of the Rwandan genocide. Instead, there was the hate radio, the Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines (RTLM) literally just blasting hate speech all over the country. When I returned to deal with the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide in the State Department, I asked one of the people who was making our policy in Rwanda, “Why haven’t you jammed the radio?” And this person said it would be a violation of free speech. Since when does incitement to commit genocide become protected speech? That’s not free speech, that’s criminal speech. And it is not permitted in any country.
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Q. You have urged US Congressional authorities to take action against the threat of genocide in India. What do you foresee as a concrete step the US Congress can take? Given the Biden administration’s willingness to engage with New Delhi, do you believe there is any possible resolution that would be passed?
A. I think we should try to use our moral influence. I think you could talk to PM Modi through President Biden. I think he would be listened to. I think President Biden should say, “Look, you can’t let this happen in your country.” So, I think there’s real room for persuasion here.
But I believe in a Congressional resolution that urges President Biden to use diplomacy with New Delhi to stop this process. And they can specifically talk about some of the worrying early warning signs. That’s what we’re going to try to get into a resolution. I think that’s quite possible.We got the resolution on ISIS, after all. It made it possible then, for us to considerably ramp up our fight against ISIS and its defeat. And then finally, we got to resettle people that ISIS had driven out of their homes. So yes, I think Congress could very well do something. There’ll be pushback, I can promise. There will be pushback from especially businesses, because we have a lot of business relationships with India. Biden should be very firm about this. He should tell New Delhi that if genocide does break out in India, we will have to reconsider our relationships with India.
Q. India voluntarily ratified the Genocide Convention in 1959. However, there is no legislation within the country which presently deals with this specific subject. What role do you think international law and global bodies can play, if any, to hold India’s leadership to account on hate-speech and the threat of genocide?
A. Well, the Genocide Convention actually requires every state party to it to pass laws in its own country, against genocide. So India is already violating the Genocide Convention by not having such a law. So the first thing I would say to the Indian government is that they must pass a law that specifically outlaws genocide, and then provides for ways to implement that law, including arrests of people who commit some of the acts of genocide enumerated in the local law and in the international convention.
The best protection against genocide is within the nation, that is to prosecute people who do try to conspire to plan genocidal acts, to stop them before those acts are carried out. That’s why we have laws that we’re using here in the United States, for instance, against some of these groups that planned and carried out the January 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol building, the Proud Boys and Oathkeepers. We also have laws that have allowed us to prosecute a lot of leaders of the Ku Klux Klan and people who ran the organized crime families. We have a very powerful law called RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act), which allows you to swoop down on any of these mafia families and scoop up all of their assets, and arrest all of them at once. Well, that kind of law could be used also against people who are planning a genocide. Now, that’s the kind of thing that could be very helpful to have in Indian law. And I think that should be enacted. As you say, there needs to be stronger law in India, and it needs to be enforced.
Q. And, I mean, do you see anything happening in terms of that, like, in the current scenario?
A. Well, I don’t know whether the Modi government will put that forward. I don’t know. But it could be, I think, a very potent platform for the Indian Congress Party. The Congress party should be saying, “Look, look what’s happening to our country, it’s being torn apart. Under Congress, India had a few massacres, but we never had the same scale and level of what is going on right now. And so we think you should put us back in power.” That’s what the Congress leaders should be saying. They should be saying that they will pass a law outlawing genocide in this country. It’s political. After all, we can never get away from politics, especially in a democracy. And I do consider India a wonderful democracy.
(Sabah Gurmat is a staff reporter at The Leaflet.)