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On January 19, The Wire published an interview of Gregory Stanton, the founding president of Genocide Watch, by Karan Thapar. In the interview, Stanton has said he’s asked “the US Congress to pass a resolution that warns genocide should not be allowed to occur in India”. Stanton also said: “(President Joe) Biden should tell (Prime Minister Narendra) Modi if genocide occurs it will require us to re-assess all our relations with India.”
Below is the full transcript of the interview. It has been slightly edited for style and clarity. Watch it here.
Hello and welcome to a special interview for The Wire supported by Glenlivet Books. Exactly a week ago on January 12, Gregory Stanton in a special briefing to the United States Congress warned, and I am quoting him, “Genocide could very well happen in India.” He wasn’t simply alluding to those blood-curdling calls for Muslim genocide and ethnic cleansing made in December from a Dharma Sansad in Haridwar. He was also referring to a series of events and developments that go back 20 years ago. Stanton, could I start by asking you why do you believe that to be the case?
Yes, at Genocide Watch, our view is that a lot of the early warning signs in India are of a genocide. And we have learned over the years that we should not ignore these early warning signs. We knew that there were very early warning signs, for instance, in Rwanda, five years ahead of the time when the genocide happened there. We had warned, but no one did anything about it. We had even tried to warn the Rwandan President.
We try to warn because our objective is prevention. If you warn after the genocide is over it’s too late. And unfortunately, that has been the response of most of the international community. And I would add that we are not the only ones warning. The Internet, the US Holocaust Memorial Museum which has a genocide prevention centre is also warning that India is, in fact, the second most likely country, after Pakistan, for a genocide to happen.
Can I ask you what are the early warning signs that attracted your attention and are the cause of your concern?
We use a model called the ‘Ten Stages of Genocide’. These are processes, not stages. I shouldn’t have used the word ‘stages’ because it has a linear aspect. But these are ‘processes’ that make it possible for a genocide to happen.
The first is classification in which you distinguish between ‘us’ and ‘them’. In India, as we very well know, Hindus are distinguished from Muslims, Christians, members of other religions and so forth. Classification itself is not an act of genocide. In fact, it’s normal human behaviour. It’s how we classify the world.
But, when it is used in a harmful way to classify an entire group as ‘other’ than us, as aliens for instance, then it can become one of those processes that leads to genocide.
The second thing is symbolisation. You can recognise people by their clothes, the places they worship, their rituals, their rules for marriage and so forth. Again, that doesn’t necessarily lead to genocide. It’s only when those symbols are used to facilitate genocide, ID cards, for example, or in markings on houses or making people wear yellow stars and so forth.
The third thing is discrimination. We can see in the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, which gave preference for asylum in India to refugees from specific religions, from Afghanistan, Myanmar, Bangladesh, while it deliberately excluded Muslims. And the goal is the deportation of many Muslims, at least three million, from Bangladesh in 1971, who came to India during that civil war.
The next is dehumanisation in which you have the home minister of India calling Muslims ‘termites’, in which the Bangladesh Muslim refugees are called ‘foreigners’ or ‘aliens’ who should be ‘sent back to Bangladesh’ or asked to ‘go to Pakistan’.
We also have organisations like the RSS. It is very well-organised and has been neo-nazi since its beginning. In fact, the founder of the RSS was a great admirer of Hitler. We also have the leader of the BJP, Modi himself, who is a member of the RSS. And when he was chief minister of Gujarat, a massacre of Muslims occurred in which at least a thousand, probably more than that, were massacred and killed. And he did nothing. In fact, there’s evidence that he may have stood by intentionally and told his police not to interfere.
We have polarisation, we have the propaganda, false propaganda about ‘love jihad‘ for example, and we have laws against religious conversion – a direct violation, I think, of freedom of religion. We have lynchings, we have preparation of a census law in India to make people prove their citizenship. When you try to make people prove their citizenship so you can strip them of their citizenship, and that’s the idea here. If they cannot produce enough documents that they were citizens of India before 1971, they will be considered ‘foreigners’ and they can be deported. And that’s exactly what this government has announced to do, with at least three million people who now live in Assam, who are Muslims. And we also have persecution, we have attacks on churches, mosques; we have arrests among Bengali Muslims in Islam, we have oppression of Kashmiri Muslims.
So all of these early warning signs are already here. We don’t say that the next stage, which is extermination, has begun yet. But our view is that it is a huge danger in India because it won’t be the state that carries out any genocide. It will be mobs. It will the same kind of mobs that carried out double genocide at the time of Partition in 1947.
This is very important because as you said to the US Congress, genocide is not an event, it’s a process, it develops. And the ten stages of genocide, which your organisation Genocide Watch has identified, are the different stages of that process. And, you believe India is pretty far down that list of ten stages. You identified classification, symbolisation, discrimination, dehumanisation, polarisation and we are getting perilously close, in your opinion, to actual extermination, which is why you are seriously worried today.
That’s right and by the way, I am also seriously worried about many other countries, as you can imagine. I even believe that genocide is possible in the United States. After all, we committed genocide against our own native Americans, we committed genocide against African-Americans during the slave trade. This is a country that has committed genocide. Just because it’s a democracy doesn’t mean it’s impossible. And so that’s why I am so worried about India because this is a country with a Constitution that works, with a Constitution that could stop it. And I hope it will.
I hope people will tell Modi: “No, you can’t do this. You can’t keep up this hatred in this country.” We have just had a president who also was a preacher of hatred – Trump. And he polarised this country. I am worried that the same thing could happen in India.
You said a very important thing: just because a country is a democracy doesn’t mean genocide cannot happen within that country, and this is why you are so particularly concerned about Kashmir and Assam. Again, I am going to quote from what you said to the US Congress: “Right now, it would be hard to say there is a genocide in Kashmir or Assam but what [is happening] there are the early signs and processes of genocide in Kashmir and Assam. Those are the states where you are most worried that the likelihood of genocide is steadily growing.
That’s right. And we are about to issue another genocide warning but this is for Uttarakhand, because that is where this conference in Haridwar occurred where Hindu extremist leaders were, in fact, calling for Hindus to arm themselves to kill Muslims. They said it outright, blatantly, “We must arm to kill Muslims.” That is the sort of hate speech, which is actually called an ‘incitement to commit genocide’. It’s a crime under the Genocide Convention. Incitement to commit genocide is an act of genocide. These people should be prosecuted for that.
You said the US Holocaust Memorial Museum believes that India is the second most likely country to see a genocide. Does Genocide Watch, your organisation, also believe that India is the second most likely country in the world to see a genocide?
Well, actually we don’t try to rank countries in orders of probability. What the US holocaust memorial museum does is that they use a statistical model as a risk analysis for how they can say this is the second most likely [country]. We have never tried to be that exact but what we do know is this – that our model works. We are one of the most predictive organisations. We have predicted every single genocide since we were founded in 1999. But the holocaust museum is also a very distinguished organisation, so they use a different model, a statistical model but it completely agrees with our predictions.
Let me focus a little, particularly, on Prime Minister Narendra Modi. In your briefing to the US Congress on January 12, you spoke specifically about Narendra Modi and you made two points about him. You said you believed that he encouraged the 2002 massacre when a thousand Muslims are believed to have been killed in Gujarat when he was chief minister. And you also said that he uses anti-Muslim rhetoric to build his political base. Now, Modi and the BJP will strenuously and angrily refute that. But the point I want to ask you is this – why did you believe it was important to make these points to the US Congress, specifically about the Indian prime minister?
Well, the reason is, I think he has a record. A record he needs to answer about. He needs to be accountable. In 2002, when he was chief minister of Gujarat, there were these massacres of Muslims, at least a thousand, he stood back. And there’s evidence, quite a bit of evidence that he really told his police not to intervene. So that’s complicity at the very least in genocidal massacres. So he has a record.
Not only that, he is a member of the RSS. The RSS has been a hate group from the beginning. In fact, it was an RSS member who assassinated Mahatma Gandhi. And now some of the RSS leaders are even celebrating Godse, the assassin of Gandhi. It’s extraordinary and it’s amazing. It’s like celebrating John Wilkes Booth who was the assassin of Lincoln. So that’s one thing. But secondly, and I do believe this, I think that the BJP, Modi, and his followers and other people in the BJP are using this to build their Hindu base, their political base, just the way Trump has tried to use hatred of immigrants and other people, who are so-called ‘aliens’, to build his political base here in the United States. So I’m very worried about that because when you try to set one group against another in order to build a political base, it creates the basis on which genocide is likely to happen.
In your deposition to the US Congress, you said, and again I am quoting you, “Modi has a moral obligation to denounce hate speech.” Exactly a month has passed since those blood-curdling calls were made in Haridwar and Modi hasn’t said a word. Leave aside denounced, he hasn’t said a word. Is his silence another reason why you chose to particularly talk about him to the US Congress?
Indeed it is. He is, after all, the Prime Minister of India. And it is although state authorities who need to arrest, for instance, the insiders who spoke of genocide at Haridwar. It’s in other words a state responsibility, nevertheless, he is prime minister, he is the leader of the country. I think he has a moral obligation to denounce this kind of hate speech, just as I believe, our current President Biden has been denouncing this kind of hate speech, finally, in the US.
Leaders have a responsibility to not remain silent when their countries are at grave risk of violence, and I believe that is his duty as the prime minister of India. India has a really great constitution, a constitution that works. I spent a year living in India at the Indian Law Institute, and I was so impressed with how India and its legal system works. And, the independence of the judiciary, the extraordinarily complex society that India is with its such great diversity… to have someone attack that, to actually have people in his [Modi’s] party who would like to target Muslims, I think is against the very nature of the constitution of India.
How do you interpret Modi’s silence? And I’ll just repeat something I said earlier, it’s not a silence of a day or a week, he has been silent for a month. How do you interpret that silence?
Let me quote my leader Martin Luther King Jr, I have spoken on the same platform as him when I was just a college student and I have met him and I was trained by his organisation Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and was a civil rights worker in Mississippi. Martin Luther King once said, “We will know who is against us not by what they have said but by their silence.” And I think that kind of silence is what we are seeing now from Modi. It’s time for him to condemn this kind of hatred in India.
But you are also saying by implication that Modi’s silence damns him?
Oh yes, it sure does. Absolutely!
I just want to point out to the audience that you have an unerring capacity to sense genocide long before it happens. I believe in 1989, four or five years before it happened in Rwanda, you were living there and you went and met the President at the time and said to him if you don’t take action to remove the way ethnicity is stamped on identity cards, you will have genocide in your country. And four to five years later that is precisely what happened. And so when you have that same gut instinct about India, you have a track record of being correct, and therefore, your gut instinct about India is particularly ominous and worrying. Have I correctly interpreted that?
You have indeed, in fact, yes. In fact, I had noticed these ID Cards that have Tutsi and Hutu and Twa written on them. And I had dinner one night with Joseph Kavaruganda, who was the president of the Supreme Court, a Hutu, a liberal Hutu, and I said can’t you declare this denotation of ethnicity on the ID cards. It is unconstitutional, some kind of violation of equal protection. He said, “No, we don’t have a judicial review in Rwanda. You have to go meet with the President and get this brought up.”
So I got a meeting with President Habyarimana himself, and I went in and we talked. I was there to also work on making the legal system work better, and one of the things I recommended was to recreate the Gacaca system of traditional justice, which later, of course, occurred. But when we got to the ID cards and to the dangers that I saw of genocide in Rwanda – and I had also conducted a workshop on genocide when I was there – I said you got to get these ethnicities off the ID cards. And at that point, a kind of mask went down over his face, and he didn’t want to hear this. It turned out, of course, he had himself conducted genocidal massacres in a room, so I was talking to the wrong man. But, five years later exactly is when the genocide began in Rwanda. And, the other thing is the whole phenomenon of denial which is always the final stage, by the way, in every genocide, but it occurs all the way through the process.
A lot of people outside and inside a country will deny that it’s likely. Well, I knew that, I saw that right in the State Department during the run in the genocide because I was working there at that time. We had a legal office in the State Department that refused to use the word ‘genocide’. And, Pru Bushnell, who was the deputy assistant secretary of state for African affairs asked Joan Donoghue, who was leading at that time, the deciding factor on whether it should be called ‘genocide’.
Pru Bushnell asked her how many deaths does it take until you can say it’s genocide and I quote, Joan Donoghue, said: “We don’t have enough evidence of intent.” At that time, 10,000 people a day were being killed.
Donoghue is now the President of the International Court of Justice. That should send shivers up and down your spine. Because she is the President of the court that is going to decide the case of Gambia versus Myanmar, in which Myanmar is accused of violating the Genocide Convention. She’s a genocide denier.
We are coming to the end of this interview but I want to go back once again to what you said to the US Congress, exactly a week ago on January 12. I’m quoting you, that your aim was “to brief people who can do something about the threat of genocide in India. What is it that you want the US Congress to do?
I would like the US Congress to pass a resolution. It’s much less important than some kind of law. But a resolution that warns that genocide should not be allowed to occur in India, that it should be US foreign policy to prevent it, and that President Biden should warn Modi and the rest of the Indian government that it must not happen in India.
India is a natural ally of the US because we are both very large democracies. Our president should tell Modi if a genocide occurs in your country, in India, it will require us to reassess all of our relationships with India. I mean that includes everything, trade and everything. I think we should be doing that very thing with China, as we have already begun, as you know. We now have a law that outlines the importation of any goods that are made in Xinjiang province where the Uyghur people live and they are now victims of genocide at the hands of the Chinese government. I think we should be, frankly, boycotting all the sponsors of the Winter Olympics in China because of what China is doing.
Can I ask you this, how confident are you that the US Congress will pass the sort of resolution you believe is necessary, calling upon the president to warn the Indian prime minister?
I think it is likely, actually. I think that my experience has been that nobody in Congress really favours genocide. We had a resolution in 2016 that we promoted, it was a resolution about ISIS committing genocide against Yazidis, Christians, Shia and so forth. At the time, in fact, there were people who said, “Oh no, we shouldn’t be doing this” and so forth. And we said, “Yes, we should. We should be declaring, calling a spade a spade.” And we got it passed unanimously in the US Congress and Senate. And in turn, then, the Secretary of State declared it, and the result was that we greatly increased our military pressure on ISIS. We defeated them.
Can I interrupt?
Passing a resolution against ISIS is a very likely step that the US Congress would take. Do you really believe that the US Congress will take this step vis-à-vis India and Modi?
I don’t know if, well of course, it’s not merely as…for one thing ISIS was already committing genocide. And I am not saying that India is now committing genocide, we are only warning that it could happen. So I don’t think it’s as likely as with ISIS. But, I think that the point is that Congress needs to warn and…there will be counter pressures, especially business pressures because after all we are very much connected to India in business.
My last question, if, and I think this is very very likely, the Modi government and the BJP turned around and say that what you said to me and what you said to the US Congress on January 12 is gross exaggeration, and if they go one step further, which I also think is likely, that they denounce you for stirring trouble and making mischief and being prejudicial, how would you respond?
I would respond simply that people have said that about Genocide Watch before, when we predict genocide and in every case, the prediction has turned out to be true. And we also have not said that genocide is already occurring, we are not trying to exaggerate this at all. We are just saying the early warning stages are there. So stop the genocide now, before it is fully underway. And I do think, as I say, that it won’t be the State that commits genocide in India, it will be mobs. So that’s what we need to worry about and it’s what we need to warn Modi and others about. I don’t think I’m trying to make trouble in India for ‘goodness’ sake. I love India. In fact, I dearly love India. And I just hope India will succeed as a nation, and I’m sure it will.
Thank you Stanton, thank you very much for speaking to me. I hope what you have said is widely heard in my country and also listened to attentively by my government. Take care, stay safe.
Thank you, been an honour.