A Curious Proponent of the ICC: the “Society for Endangered Peoples”

Posted by John Rosenthal

[Originally posted at www.trans-int.blogspot.com]

The International Criminal Court (ICC) is often presented in the English-language media as a “UN Court”. Thus, for instance, a New York Times headline of 2 April reads “Sudan: U.N. Court Rejected”. The supposed “UN Court” in question is the ICC. Similarly, a LA Times headline of 31 March, alluding to the recent UN Security Council decision to refer war crimes charges to the ICC, reads: “US Agrees to Use UN Court for Darfur Cases”.

But in fact the ICC (unlike the International Court of Justice [ICJ] with which it is frequently confused) is not a UN institution and it was not designed to be one. Indeed, as I show in my February 2004 article on the ICC from Policy Review, the ICC defies the basic principles of international law upon which the UN was founded and represents a challenge to the very authority of the UN – and, more particularly, the UN Security Council – in international affairs. This challenge was somewhat attenuated – made less frontal, so to say – by changes introduced into the ICC’s statute at the last minute at the 1998 Rome Conference where the statute’s details were essentially finalized. Nonetheless, a challenge it remains.

The latent hostility to the UN system expressed in the ICC statute is perhaps not so surprising when one considers that the leading advocate of the court among states was precisely Germany: a state that, as a result of the circumstances of the UN’s creation – namely, the defeat of the Axis Powers in WWII – finds itself at a disadvantage in the internal structure of the organization by comparison to states that are similarly powerful in other respects. The hostility is even less surprising when one considers that among the German NGOs most actively involved in promoting the ICC there figured the Göttingen-based Gesellschaft für bedrohte Völker (GfbV) – literally the “Society for Endangered Peoples” – a group whose rhetoric and agenda exhibit unmistakably revanchist traits.

Thus, for example, a memorandum issued by the GfbV in June 1998 [link in English] in the run-up to the Rome Conference bears the title: “For an Independent International Criminal Court! Remember Crimes of the Permanent Members of the UN Security Council!” [Note of 9 March 2006: This memorandum is no longer available on the GfbV website. To view a Google cache of it, click here.] To appreciate the revanchist tone of such a title, one need only recall that the permanent members of the UN Security Council are constituted by the victorious allied Powers of WWII (including France, which was, in effect, promoted to the status of an honorary victorious Power).

“Since the Nuremberg court cases against the National Socialist architects of the Holocaust,” the GfbV memorandum reads,

since the general declaration of human rights by the UN General Assembly and the 1948 passing of the UN Convention for the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide, each year genocide, wars of aggression and other serious crimes against humanity have taken place worldwide. The permanent members of the UN Security Council who, according to the UN charter, bear the “main responsibility for the maintenance of world peace” have committed such crimes and others by themselves, supported them actively, assisted them favorably or tolerated them tacitly.

The memorandum then goes on to provide an inventory of these alleged “crimes” of the Security Council members, beginning with the United States, which, the memorandum warns, “must expect that an ICC could also indict US citizens for crimes against humanity.” Note that when the GfbV speaks of an “independent” ICC, it means precisely independent of the Security Council.

The use of such rhetoric would not be so troubling if it was a matter of an extremist group on the margins of German society. But the GfbV is not that. The GfbV was one of the founding members of the German Committee of the Coalition for an International Criminal Court (CICC-DE). The GfbV’s Dr. Andreas Selmeci is listed as one of the two contact persons for the CICC-DE in this July 1999 press release. In April 2000, the GfbV’s leading partner in the CICC-DE, the Committee for an Effective International Criminal Law sponsored a conference on the ICC in Konstanz with GfbV participation. The opening address to the conference was by the then German Minister of Justice Herta Däubler-Gmelin (yes, that Herta Däubler-Gmelin, who in 2002 would famously compare George W. Bush to Adolf Hitler). A message of greeting was also sent by Kofi Annan. Since 1993, incidentally, the GfbV enjoys consultative status at the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) of the UN. It is, by its own reckoning [link in German], the “second largest human rights organization in Germany”.

The rhetoric of the GfbV memorandum is, moreover, not only revanchist in character, but also, in effect, revisionist. It is not so in the crude sense that it serves to deny the Holocaust, but in the more subtle sense that it serves massively to relativize it. As attested by the following translated excerpts from a 2002 background report on the GvbV prepared by the website GermanForeignPolicy.com (GFP), this is entirely in keeping with the organization’s profile and ideology. (Note that GFP is not a German government site, but a watchdog site that monitors German foreign policy from a highly critical perspective. Note too that the quotations in the GFP report come from the GfbV’s own statements and publications. I have incorporated links to some of the original GvbV material [in German] into the excerpts.)

The political work of the GfbV is marked by the German “völkisch” [or “ethnic-national” – see here for more – JR] ideology. Even if the GfbV calls itself a “human rights organization”, the focus is not on threatened or persecuted men and women. As the organization’s name already indicates, individual human beings are only of interest [for it] inasmuch as members of a particular community – namely, a “people”. According to its bye-laws, the GfbV fights against “every attempt to destroy a people, its security, its life, its right to property and development, its religion, as well as its linguistic and cultural identity”. In the view of the GfbV, a “people” [Volk] is the essential form of human organization: a quasi-natural “community” that fundamentally constitutes what it means to be human. Individuals who become alienated from the constituent features of their “original people” (language, culture, religion, etc.), accordingly lose their “identity” and thereby an essential part of their human being.

Consequently, the GfbV opposes as “genocide” every form of incorporation in other population groups of the “peoples, ethnic groups, ethnic and religious communities” that it discovers all over the world: every form of assimilation into a community which is determined other than in this ethnic-national manner. The “destruction of those who are different” is supposed to begin with the destruction of languages and cultures: this represents “ethnocide” and “cultural genocide”.

….Accordingly, for the GfbV history is, above all the history of “peoples” [Völker] or even the history of continuous genocides [Völkermorde]. It claims that “since the end of WWII and one after another in a continuous series, whole ethnic groups have suffered expulsion and genocide has constantly been committed.” The GfbV’s history of genocides is of a piece with an extensive relativization of the mass crimes of Nazi Germany and, in particular, the Holocaust. The German people thus becomes for the GfbV one of the most endangered peoples: “In world history, the expulsion of Germans from Eastern Europe between 1945 and 1948 is the worst case. More than twelve million people lost their homeland, up to three million their lives.” [Tilman] Zülch – the “political director” of the GfbV – complains that the Holocaust is given too important a place, whereas the “Tribunal of the Victorious Powers” [i.e. the Nuremberg Tribunal] left unpunished the “crimes of the allied governments”, and the “crime of expulsion committed against the eastern Germans and the Sudeten-Germans…, which by today’s standards would meet the criteria for being considered genocide”.

…By way of its close collaboration with German expellee organizations [such as the influential Bund der Vertriebenen (BdV) – JR] , a series of contacts have come to light connecting the GfbV to groupings that belong in the tradition of the völkisch and national-socialist ideologies. In 1995, for instance, it became known that the former Nazi administrator of the Kolomea ghetto in Poland – accused of being complicit in the deaths of some 30,000 Jews – worked in the Advisory Board of the GfbV.

The editors of GermanForeignPolicy.com may be exaggerating in saying that Zülch “complains that the Holocaust is given too important a place”. I do not know if Zülch has ever said this. But his multiplication of other “genocides” and his insistence that they have not been sufficiently acknowledged certainly implies it.

Also, I should point out that the GfbV translates its name into English as the “Society for Threatened Peoples” and not “Endangered Peoples” as I have rendered it. Their translation is, however, a poor one. The expression “Bedrohte Völker” is clearly modeled on “Bedrohte Tierarten” – which is the German equivalent for “endangered species”.

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