Sunday, July 23, 2006

Collective Punishment

"To kill the big rats, you have to kill the little rats." - Political commentator on the radio in Rwanda - 1994.

Collective punishment is not self-defense. Collective punishment is an act of violence propagated against an entire local population for the acts of a few of its members. Collective punishment is also the automatic dismissal of due process of law which requires that the individuals responsible for an act of violence are actually the ones prosecuted for the said act. Collective punishment allows destroying the property of people and/or killing them, even though they may have had absolutely no knowledge of the crime.

Collective punishment is certainly not new as ancient religious texts are decorated with stories of mass punishments and, sadly, modern examples are also quite plentiful. The Germans collectively punished Jewish people, as seen in the Warsaw Ghetto pictured above, on a massive scale during the years of World War II. The Germans also collectively punished the civilians of Oradour-sur-Glane for the actions of the French resistance in 1944. In the 1950s, the British used collective punishment against civilians in Cyprus and Malaysia. Economic sanctions are also a form of collective punishment since it is the civilians that will suffer for the transgressions of those in power who inevitably remain secure by force of arms.

Yet governments are not the only groups guilty of the tactics of collective punishment. In Rwanda, armed Hutu groups used collective punishment against Tutsi men, women and children. The attacks on the World Trade Center, Madrid, London, and Mumbai are all forms of collective punishment. The point being, that even if every single person killed or maimed, had been guilty of the crimes of which they were accused by Al-Qaeda and others, not a single one of them was given due process of law and therefore, their human rights were violated. Even the Oklahoma City bombing was a collective punishment as it is highly unlikely, that the 19 children killed in the blast, had participated in any FBI enforcement operations that were so offensive to the convicted bombers.

Let us try to move past the obvious point of Israel’s latest aggression which is that, it is a clear violation of Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, specifically forbidding collective punishment. Let us try to move past the fact that suicide bombers, associated with Hamas and Fatah, are guilty of collective punishment when they kill Israeli civilians. And of course, we must move past the fact that Hezbollah is also guilty of collective punishment when they fire missiles into Israeli towns.

All modern warfare is collective punishment. Prior to the 20th century, civilian casualties, related to an actual set-piece battle, were approximately 1 in 10. By World War II, one-half of conflict casualties were civilians, and by the 21st century, 90% of all casualties were civilians. These numbers may or may not include all the civilians adversely affected by ruined infrastructure, latent unexploded ordinance, starvation, and disease. This casualty rate is, of course, influenced by the increased destructive capabilities of weapons and the uniform acceptance of urban centers as valid military targets. Therefore, all modern warfare is collective punishment because, any time a modern weapon is applied for the purpose of inflicting damage, collateral or otherwise, every civilian killed is cheated of the due process of law and of their human rights. They are paying for the transgressions of others.

Ultimately, it is hypocritical to condemn collective punishment against your group when your own group uses collective punishment against others. Plain and simple.
- Just a peasant


Anonymous girl on the run said...

I enjoyed this article. It really shows the big picture.

I'm not sure I agree with the concluding sentence though. Because if you use collective punishment, it does not validate its use by an opponent against you, simply because the opponents use of collective punishment will not effect you, but your people.

Could you please explain that to me?

Thanks again.

1:28 AM  
Blogger Just a peasant said...

Hi girl on the run,

When I say "validate," I don't actually mean that it is acceptable in any way. What I mean is that it is hypocritical for one group to condemn collective punishment when they themselves use collective punishment against others.

You're right though, that phrase implies that there is a validation but that's not what I intended. The last pharse was more aimed at those who condemn acts of terrorism yet allow their military to decimate civilian centers.

Tell me if you agree or disagree.

3:02 AM  
Blogger Just a peasant said...

Hi girl on the run,

You're right. My phrasing gave the wrong impression. So I changed it. Does this make better sense?

Let me know.

3:27 AM  
Anonymous girl on the run said...


Thank you for explaining that. Rephrasing the last sentence really makes it work for me. I understand what you're saying and I agree. It is hypocritical to expect that your enemy should not use the same tricks that you use.

In the case of the current situation of "terrorism" and "the war on terrorism", both parties should not be surprised if they find their civilians under siege. Collective punishment is a filthy weapon of war. It's also one of the few weapons that both parties possess, one that "works" for both of them, no matter how technologically disadvantaged one of the parties is.

I will be back to read more of your blog.


8:50 AM  

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