Is Ahmadinejad guilty of incitement under the Genocide Convention? Irwin Cotler

Ahmadinejad receives standing ovation at UN General Assembley, 2008

Ahmadinejad receives standing ovation at UN General Assembley, 2008

This piece, by Irwin Cotler, is from the National Post.

December 9 marks the 60th anniversary of the Genocide Convention, sometimes referred to as the “Never Again” Convention. Six decades have passed since this new era of genocide prevention was proclaimed in the wake of the Holocaust. On this oft-ignored anniversary, we must acknowledge our abysmal failure in preventing the most destructive threat known to humankind – the crime whose name we should even shudder to mention – genocide.

The enduring lesson of the Holocaust and that of the genocides that followed is that they occurred not simply because of the machinery of death, but because of the state-sanctioned incitement to hatred. As international tribunals have recognized and affirmed, the Holocaust did not begin in the gas chambers; it began with words. These are the chilling facts of history.

Most important, in all other cases of state-sanctioned incitement to genocide – the Holocaust, the Balkans, Rwanda and Darfur – the genocides have already occurred. Only in President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s Iran – the epicentre of such incitement – can we still act so as to prevent a genocide foretold from occurring.

For it is in Ahmadinejad’s Iran where one finds the toxic convergence of the advocacy of the most horrific of crimes embedded in the most virulent of hatreds. It is dramatized by the parading in the streets of Teheran of a Shahab-3 missile draped in the words “Israel must be wiped off the map” and underpinned by the words of the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei that “[t]here is only one solution to the Middle East problem, namely the annihilation and destruction of the Jewish state.”

Alarmingly, Iran has already succeeded in developing a long-range missile delivery system for that purpose, and they have assembled enough material to make a nuclear bomb. All this in the context of former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani’s open threat that “even one atomic bomb inside Israel will wipe it off the face of the earth.”

Canada – one of the architects of international humanitarian law – is well-placed to take a leadership role in the international community. It is time for us to assume our responsibility. Let me be clear on this point: holding Iran to account is not only the right thing to do; it is our duty. For what is so often ignored is that state parties to the Genocide Convention, such as Canada, have not only a right, but an obligation, to enforce the Convention—and in particular to prevent genocide.

Prime Minister Harper knows very well what is at stake. He has already characterized President Ahmadinejad’s call for the annihilation of Israel as “appalling,” “irresponsible,” and founded on “hatred.” Opposition Leader Stephane Dion has pointed out the dangers of a nuclear and genocidal Iran in calling for it to be held to account. There can be no mistake about it: Iran has already committed the crime of incitement prohibited under the Genocide Convention.

Canada should lead the international community in paying heed to the precursors of genocide in Ahmadinejad’s Iran, and in acting now as mandated under the Genocide Convention. Indeed, as one involved as Minister of Justice in the prosecution of Rwandan incitement, I can state that the aggregate of precursors of incitement in the Iranian case are more threatening than were those in the Rwandan one.

The threat of genocide should not be disconnected from the nuclear issue, let alone ignored. It is the terrifying and vilifying context in which the nuclear threat operates, and the Genocide Convention, together with international legal instruments such as the Treaty for an International Criminal Court – which also directly prohibits the public incitement to genocide – and the UN Charter, authorize a panoply of international legal remedies which Canada could invoke.

Specifically, an application to hold Iran – also a state party – to account should be submitted to the UN Security Council pursuant to Article 8 of the Genocide Convention; an inter-state complaint can be launched against Iran before the International Court of Justice; and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon should be asked to refer the danger of a genocidal and nuclear Iran to the Security Council as a threat to international peace and security.

Given their genocidal incitement, the cases of President Ahmadinejad and other Iranian leaders can be referred to other UN agencies as well. What is so astonishing is that this criminal incitement by a nuclear weapon-seeking Iran has yet to be addressed by any agency of the UN—thereby nurturing a culture of impunity that itself is driving a culture of hatred. And what is no less disturbing – considering that indifference and inaction are also what made prior genocides possible – is that no state party has invoked any of these mandated initiatives.

The legal remedies to counter state-sanctioned incitement exist, but the leadership has thus far been wanting. This is why I am releasing a petition entitled “The Danger of a Genocidal and Nuclear Iran: The Responsibility to Prevent” – endorsed by legal scholars, genocide experts and even genocide survivors from around the world – that extensively presents the factual and legal case against Ahmadinejad’s Iran, and that calls upon the international community – and state parties to the Genocide Convention – to act.

Calling Ahmadinejad’s Iran to account – and directly linking its nuclear ambitions to its genocidal incitements – is not simply an option. It is a responsibility – a responsibility to prevent – a responsibility envisaged by the Genocide Convention 60 years ago.

The writer is the Member of Parliament for Mount Royal and the former Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada. He is a Professor of Law (on leave) at McGill University and has written extensively on – and prosecuted for – incitement to genocide.

This piece, by Irwin Cotler, is from the National Post.

4 Responses to “Is Ahmadinejad guilty of incitement under the Genocide Convention? Irwin Cotler”

  1. zkharya Says:

    According to evangelical Christians like Stephen Sizer, the answer to your question is “Of course not”.

    And there is absolutely no need to share with Ahmadinejad the good news of Jesus Christ, since he obviously knows of it. Otherwise one would be guilty of antisemitism.

    • Bill Says:


      And my sainted mother wonders why her little alterboy is now an atheist.

      As for the UN which continues to drool over him and his (more than just as an obligation, they love him): I suspect I will soon join the John Birch Society (rabidly isolationist and frothily anti UN) in my cranky near-middle-age grouchiness. They way the International Humanist and Ethical Union and other fight-the-good-fighters like UN Watch keep up trying to appeal the body is either a testament to their moxie or their madness.

  2. Jonathan Says:

    Dear Mr Cotler

    I think you are mistaken. You clearly don’t have Channel 4 over there in Canada. Mr Ahmadinejad can’t be all that naughty or else Channel 4 would never have chosen him to give their Christmas Day message.

  3. Ben White: denying Ahmadinejad’s Holocaust denial « Seismic Shock Says:

    […] and thinks Hezbollah is nationalist movement, should really be writing articles about jihad, Engage has an interesting post up this week about whether Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is guilty of incitement […]

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