A new grassroots initiative to diplomatically isolate Iran and its leader, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, for incitement to genocide was unveiled Tuesday by attorneys in Canada, the United States, England and Israel.
The initiative calls for criminal charges and travel bans to be issued against Ahmadinejad and has demanded that the United Nations suspend Iran's membership and levy stiffer economic sanctions against Teheran.
The push for these measures was timed to coincide with the 60th anniversary of the United Nation's Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, Canadian MP Irwin Cotler told The Jerusalem Post as he sat in the lobby of a Jerusalem hotel Tuesday.
Cotler said lawyers in Montreal, along with renowned attorneys Anthony Julius in London and Alan Dershowitz of Harvard University in Massachusetts, were simultaneously holding press conferences to speak of the initiative and the paper released along with it.
In that paper, the attorneys make the case that by demonizing Jews and Israel and by threatening to annihilate Israel with a nuclear bomb, Ahmadinejad could be held accountable under international law for incitement to genocide. While the world has focused on the danger of Iran's fledgling nuclear program, Cotler and the members of his group want to remind countries that this danger is heightened by Ahmadinejad's genocidal threats.
"Today, in Ahmadinejad's Iran, one finds the toxic convergence of the advocacy of the most horrific of crimes, namely genocide, embedded in the most virulent of hatreds. It is dramatized by the parading in the streets of Teheran of a missile draped in the words 'Wipe Israel off the map,' while the assembled thousands are exhorted to chants of 'Death to Israel,'" the initiative stated.
Among the academics, attorneys and politicians who have signed on to the initiative are former Swedish deputy prime minister Per Ahlmark and former UN high commissioner for human rights Louise Arbour, as well as Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel.
Members of this group will lobby countries to recognize that Iran has violated the genocide convention, and to make use of a host of available international measures to further isolate the country, which until now has mostly been censured for its nuclear program.
"The Genocide Convention not only prohibits incitement to genocide, and [not only has] Iran committed this crime, but [the convention] identifies the remedy to prevent it. It says, you state parties - you, Canada, US - you all are obliged to prevent genocide. Here is the way it can be done and must be done," said Cotler.
What is happening in Iran is a state-sanctioned call to genocide, and it should be states that respond to stop it, said Cotler.
"On the eve of coming here, I spoke to the foreign minister of Canada and told him that I am launching this petition and I am going to call on Canada to [support] it," said Cotler, adding that his Liberal party had already endorsed the campaign.
On December 16, Cotler plans to lobby the foreign minister and other officials in the Czech Republic, which is set to take over the presidency of the European Union in January, and remind them of the world's indifference to the 1939 German takeover of their country.
"I do not have to remind you [the Czech Republic] of the dangers of indifference, inaction and appeasement. You can strike a symbolic blow by being among the first of the countries to initiate one or more of these remedies," said Cotler.
He said the petition was currently being given to the Australian foreign minister, and at the end of the month, it would be presented to members of US President-elect Barack Obama's staff.
A copy of the initiative has also been sent to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, added Cotler, who said he hoped to set up a meeting with the UN chief with an eye toward swaying him to ask the Security Council for a harsher set of economic sanctions against Iran.
Teheran is currently in violation of three sets of UN Security Council sanctions demanding an immediate freeze on its nuclear enrichment program. Efforts by European members to pass a fourth round of sanctions earlier this autumn fell through after Russia withdrew from talks. Both Russia and China have opposed additional sanctions.
"I agree with the focus on [preventing] a nuclear Iran," but the drive to stop that program can be heightened by holding Iran accountable for its genocidal violations, said Cotler.
"What makes the prospect of a nuclear Iran - which would be dangerous in and of itself - particularly dangerous is the fact that it is a nuclear Iran in the context of a genocidal Iran. You have the Iranian leadership saying that there can be only one solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict, and that is the... annihilation of the Jewish State, and that with one bomb we can do it," he explained.
"By focusing just on the nuclear, we are losing sight of the genocidal," he went on. "If you also focus on the genocide, you appreciate the danger of both... Some people are saying, why should we support [nuclear] sanctions when we do not know if they are developing nuclear weapons? What we are saying is that you know they are inciting to genocide."
Cotler added that at this point, he was asking at the very least that the UN adhere to Article 8 of the Genocide Convention, which allows for member states to refer the issue to the Security Council to hold Ahmadinejad accountable for his words.
Laura Kam, a senior adviser to the Washington-based Israel Project - which has been vocal on the need to halt Iran's nuclear program - told the Post, "It's unclear whether the UN would accept a new resolution based on genocide, but it's not just a PR gimmick - even if it doesn't come to a resolution, it's an important way to raise awareness."
Still, said Kam, who is not part of Cotler's project, "I think you do need another resolution."
Besides lobbying for stiffer sanctions at the UN Security Council, Cotler said, member states should look to bring Iran before the High Court of Justice at The Hague or to bring Ahmadinejad before the International Criminal Court.
In his paper, he also argues that Iran should be suspended from the UN.
In addition, he told the Post, the UN Security Council and individual countries should issue a travel ban against Ahmadinejad, and nations like Germany should stop trading with and investing in Iran.
"We should be telling people in Germany, you are trading with a country that is engaged in state-sanctioned incitement to genocide, and we do not have to tell you where that leads to," he said.
What has been forgotten, he added, is that the Holocaust did not begin in the gas chambers, but with words and indifference. It was the inaction of the international community prior to World War II that led to the Holocaust, as well as to other genocides that occurred in the Balkans and Rwanda.
"These genocides have occurred. Only with regard to Ahmadinejad's Iran do we have the opportunity to prevent a genocide foretold," said Cotler.
Incitement to genocide is a crime, he asserted, and Ahmadinejad's Iran has already committed this crime.