GENOCIDE IN BIAFRA
SPEECH BY MR. MAXWELL COHEN, LAWYER, MEMBER OFTHE INTERNATIONAL LAW COMMITTEE OF THE AMERICAN BAR ASSOCIATION; ADVISOR TO THE BIAFRAN GOVERNMENT ON THE UNITED NATIONS GENOCIDE CONVENTION
AN EYEWITNESS TO GENOCIDE IN BIAFRA;
ON THE OCCASION OF THE FIRST INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE ON BIAFRA, IN NEW YORK, DECEMBER 7, 1968.
Curiously, in the thousands of books, reports and speeches that I have read relating to the Biafra situation, there has been no reference made to an amazing coincidence of three aspects. I wonder if I could call your attention to this omission, and ask you to consider the significance. (1) I donít know of any other situation in my generation, which has combined in one instance the curious aspects of the great moral verbalization, the greatest example of governmental duplicity, and the magnificent social dynamics of a youthful generation. Let me clarify. The moral tone of this atrocious war, and every war is an atrocity, has been set by students, middle class individuals or families, and certain institutions. The aspect of governmental duplicity has been set by commissions, by Ambassadors, by various governmental functionaries; and the moral dynamic tone has been set by college students in the United States and all over the world. Let me be even more specific before we get into our subject this morning. I have seen in Biafra the extraordinarily courageous activity and conduct of clergymen, of the Catholic faith, of the Protestant faith, or of Welfare Workers of the World Council of Churches and Catholic Service Organizations and Bínai Bírith. I have seen instances where the nobility of humanity reaches such heights as to make you feel and accept the concept of the Divinity. I have seen instances of courage by Priests who remained in hospitals that were bombed, who remained in feeding centers that were subject to bombing, who could have escaped and who remained where they were knowing full well that if they were ever captured the best they could hope for would be as quick a death as possible. I also think, for example, of the tremendously courageous behavior of the Welfare Workers who make these thoroughly dangerous flights into Biafra every single night.
The other side of the coin is the aspect of governmental j duplicity. When I was in Biafra September 28th, I was subjected to a bombing in which 74 people were killed, about 200 yards away from me in a market place. Hundreds were shot at, two bombs were dropped, three rockets fired. An Egyptian pilot in a Russian plane strafed a number of kids playing in a field right near the hotel where I was staying. I witnessed it. I saw it. Shrapnel hit an aluminum case ten feet away from me. That evening, I heard a broadcast on BBC. General Alexander assured the world there was no evidence in Biafra of atrocity, no evidence of indiscriminate bombing, no evidence of genocide whatsoever. There have been since that time six different commissions all claiming no evidence of atrocity, of bombing, of genocide. The singular aspect of all these Commissions is the fact that none of them has ever gone into Biafra. Not a single one. How can they discuss the commission of a crime by sitting in the warm corner of the perpetrator of the crime accepting his assurance that the crime has not taken
place. How can they not go to the scene of the crime to see if in fact the crime has taken place?
How can you ignore your responsibility as a public official and L-I-E, deliberately lie, to your own government, to
your own people and say critically that there is no evidence no evidence of atrocity, no evidence of bombing,-
of genocide. On the other hand, there are people who are not Biafrans; observers, Clergymen, Welfare Workers, Newspaper Reporters, who have seen these atrocities and yet their reports never get into the press.
I now make a third point of this curious coincidence of three aspects. There is in Europe a very conservative magazine, and this is the last place in the world you would ever expect an article like this published. This magazine in its current issue declares that the greatest influence on the affairs of today is students. The articleís title correctly states "Students Lead The Way." The dominant age factor of the group that has sponsored this forum, (International Conference on Biafra, Dec. 6-8, N.Y.) has sponsored similar forums throughout the world, happens to be the age area represented by college students. Now this, the third point you must see in relationship to the other points. I revert to the opening sentence. Of all of the thousands and thousands of articles and books and reports and speeches on Biafra, curiously not one has made reference to coincidence of three remarkable features: the high moral code suggested by some areas, the unpardonable duplicity suggested by government officials, and the magnificent role taken by a youthful generation in appealing to and reflecting the conscience of the world with respect to-Biafra.
This morning, the New York Times carried an article headlined, "Observers report that no Nigerian genocide,"
dated Lagos, Nigeria, December 6, Associated Press. "Neutral military observers of the Nigerian civil war said here today that they have concluded that Biafraís charges that Nigerian troups were engaged in genocide were unfounded. The observers said that Ibos, the predominant tribe of Biafra, had Ďa real fear that they will be killed if they fall into the hands of the Federal Troups, but this is dispelled Ďby the treatment they receive when they encounter Federal Troupsí the observers report." What a remarkable bit of ambiguity. The observers said the Federal Military Government was protecting Ibos and Ibo property in conquered areas." (a prison is a form of protection too). "British, Canadian, Polish and Swedish observers who have operated only on the Federal side of the war reported at a news conference that their conclusion was based on what they had seen and heard from September 2 through November 23. The Nigerian regime invited observers from those four countries, the Organization of African Unity, and the United Nations following complaints by the Biafrans that they were the victims of a war of genocide." Concluding paragraph, and this is really a beauty: "The observers said they did not know how many civilians had died in the civil war which entered its 18th month today." And the sordid claims of the article, "The team did not deal with the question of victims of starvation." 6,000-8,000 people die daily; some reports have it as high as 10 to 12 thousand people. Is there genocide in Biafra? The report says no. But the report does not deal with the aspect of starvation. When you create a condition which impairs the life and the ability to function of people and that condition is part of the National Policy, that condition is a violation of the International Laws against Genocide.
Article two of the Convention on Genocide states: "In the present convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy in whole or in part a national ethnical, racial or religious group as such.
(B) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group. (C) Deliberately inflicting on the group the conditions of life calculated to bring about physical destruction in whole or in part." Now, if you were creatingí a condition which makes it impossible for a national group to see its people fed so that 6,000, possibly 12,0011, die daily, and if~ this is a deliberate policy, then this is obviously a violation of the International Code, which we call Genocide. When you make it impossible for people to eat, they die. If they survive and they are young, the affect of malnutrition can create a mental impairment so you are in effect creating a generation of idiots. The feeding of infants may provide them with some degree of physical satisfaction now, but these are children who have seen their parents destroyed by bombs, have
seen death and starvation and have been subjected to starvation themselves. Any pediatrician, any authority on welfare will tell you that the great consequence of malnutrition is an impairment of the reasoning and mental organic functioning. So when this confounded commission omits any reference to starvation and then blandly assures the world that there is no genocide, are they not misleading, are they not falsifying information?
What can you do to counteract such hypocrisy? You can appeal to your governments and to the United Nations that hypocrisy, deception and duplicity be placed aside. Make no mistake, if you do protest by writing, by cables, by public demonstrations, the truth will come out. The truth will help Biafra and that which helps Biafra will avoid World War Three. I am predicting -- and I predict this with great zeal because in my own life I have seen two world wars, that we are incubating World War Three. ten I was in Biafra on the Nigerian side there were British guns, British credit, Russian MIGs, and subsequently Russian financial credit and Egyptian pilots. On the Biafran side there is indication of French assistance, and while I was there - there was a statement of support for Biafran war published by the Peoples Republic of China. A number of African states are assisting both sides. The involvement of governments will expand just as they did in Spain in 1939, and so unless the governments stop this war by a -cease fire, we are on the threshold of World War Three. Considering the sophisticated weapons that are in use today atomic bombs, and biological warfare that can decimate a city within a fraction of a second, we may very well be on edge of the end of this world. It becomes incumbent on every single person in America to do something. I respectfully suggest that letters be sent to President-elect Nixon and to President Johnson, and to U. Thant demanding that they immediately step forward and induce a cease fire under the auspices of the U.N. And when I say immediately, I say immediately. There is a time sequence. I have two daughters who are the age of many people involved in helping Biafra. I donít want their generation to be wiped out.
THE RELIEF SITUATION IN BIAFRA -- AN OVERVIEW
Speech by George T. Orick, former private businessman in Lagos, Nigeria for 6 years, author of an excellent article on Biafra in New Leader, January 1, 1968, recently consultant to UNICEF for whom he went to -Biafra in September, 1968, on the occasion of the First International Conference on Biafra in New York, December 7, 1968.
I left UNICEF terminating my arrangement as a consultant there about a week ago in order to have maneuverability for many other things that have to be done which cannot be done in a United Nations Agency. I want to digress a moment to say a word about UNICEF for its role in all of this is extremely misunderstood. There has been a great deal of criticism of UNICEF, totally unjustified. You must remember that UNICEF is a United Nations Agency. Within the context of the interlocking political hypocrisies of the worldís nations on this issue, there is no Biafra; consequently UNICEF has had to operate within a very restricted area and to do a great many things as a catalyst to other agencies that it should perhaps have been able to do itself. However, it has succeeded rather well in supplying approximately half of the food going into Biafra on the airlift and approximately half of the food going into the Federal areas.
Now I want to give you an analysis of the present situation in Biafra. The besieged area, includes approximately 4,000 sq. miles with a population we estimate to be at about 8,000,000 people (probably a million of these have died since we made the estimate and by the end of this year perhaps another million will have died). This besieged area is now receiving more arms in the past few months than it received much earlier and the troops of Biafra are more able to hold their own against the Nigerians. - In fact, they are occasionally recapturing bits of territory here and there. The population density for that particular part of the prewar Eastern Region which is now the enclave of Biafra, was approximately 500 persons per square mile, the densest in Black Africa. The density now is in excess of 2,000 per square mile and that area which couldnít feed itself then canít-possibly feed itself now. Since about September crop exhaustion has been in progress. By the end of December most of us estimate that there wonít be any food at all there except leaves, roots and things that canít be eaten. The airlift operating from the islands of Sao Tome and Fernando Po into the enclave can, at best, even in its increased state, supply only about 10% of the current food needs of the area. These foods are mostly high protein foods destined for children. There is no stockpiling of food in Biafra. Food is distributed within one or two days after arrival at the air field. If the air lift were doubled between now and the end of the year it couldnít supply even 10% of the needed food because by then the estimate of need will be in excess of 2,000 tons a day. Even that would provide a starvation survival ration for the people in the enclave only. This would not enable them to move around, to bury their dead, or to work. If they were to do any work they would require about 3,000 tons a day. The airlift canít possibly handle that increase; Biafra canít take that many planes, and there is no realistic plans for an airdrop. People talk about it but do nothing. There is no large scale food movement plan.
The American State Department has had to scale up its estimate of the dimensions of this tragedy somewhat but is still a long way from realizing the reality of it. There is still, I wonít say a restriction, but there is still a lethargy about movement
of surplus food to Biafra despite growing pressure from legislators and people in the farm states in this country to get rid of our surplus. There is no evidence that food in the quantities anything like what will be needed by the end of this year is ordered, committed for shipment or en route. It takes about three months to get a ship of food over there; bureaucratic delays after you order it, another month to get it processed and to the port, and another month in making the multiple stops between here and the Nigerian waters from whence it will go to various destinations. So keep this in mind. There isnít any realistic planning or movement in that direction. I see a stupefying tragedy coming and I see nothing on the horizon to stop it, nothing at all. USAID may perhaps be induced later to provide the big yellow bulldozers to bury the dead. That will come a little late. Above all, the industrial or so-called developed governments of this world wish the Biafrans out of existence, or neutralized, or contained, or at heel. And this world wish, mistaken for logic, stands as the biggest single obstacle to the relief effort there now. I lived in Lagos when all of this was shaping up. After the January 1966 military coup in which the Sarduana of Sokoto, who was the spiritual leader of the Moslems in Nigeria as well as the central leader of the Northern Region and in fact, if not in theory, of Nigeria, was killed, the folk wisdom of many of the tribes then (I call it folk wisdom because it was never official government policy, but it was a motivation expressed by the largest tribe in Nigeria) was that one million Ibos must die to avenge the killing of the Sarduana. I heard this many, many times. Nigerians will deny it, of course, but it was-said often. The problem now is to prevent the overkill. More than a million have died and now the situation is utterly out of control. It is now a head-on confrontation of Russia and Britain on the Nigerian side, each country having selected and pampered its own area commander, and the French and to some extent the Chinese, on the Biafran side. The United States has copped out when it could have done some good to effect a reconciliation and to see to it that some of the bases for compromise were effective. Now all the United States will do is deplore the situation and bury the dead.
The death rate is talked about a great deal. In July and August, when it was increasing from 3,000 to 6,000 people a day, the American State Department was talking about 200 to 400 a day and their estimates have maintained just about that degree of lag since. I want to tell you how the death rate is arrived at. There is a continuing survey by doctors, Biafran officials, relief people and missionaries in refugee camps, in villages and in other locations where a study is possible in Biafra and from this the monthly death rate is compiled and projected. These rates I think are not far from wrong. People who donít want to think about it say others are playing the numbers game when they talk about death rates. Not so. This is a very real thing. The rate for this month has been projected by many in Biafra at 20,000 to 25,000 a day. Whether it is at that amount or not, I donít care. Itís terrible anyway. I donít see any major effective plan on the horizon to stop any of this. Only a ceasefire can make it possible to move food into the area in anything like the -quantities necessary. I donít really see any realistic approach to cease fire either.
What future there is after this, I donít know. The Nigerian Government, which without tremendous outside help, guidance, stimulation, manipulation, couldnít develop its own country because of its own internal problems in the years before this war, has now been deemed totally capable by the American government and other governments of handling the relief problem which exceeds anything that this world has seen in a long, long time. And believe it or not, it is thought by otherwise responsible people that the Nigerian Government after this thing is over, either by settlement, or other means, will be the agency which should put all the pieces -back together again, and feed the people for the next year (because of the crop failure and the 4 failure to plant for next year necessitated by the eating of seed yams and other seed crops). The Nigerian Government, which can hardly wait to get back to the development game because it is so profitable for its leaders now wants to grab off the relief and rehabilitation program. You canít begin to calculate the amount of dash, as it is called or corruption than can be involved in that. Literally billions of dollars will have to go in there over the next couple of years and if this is handled by the Nigerian government, my God, I hate to think of what will be stolen of that. I just spent six years as a businessman in Nigeria and I know that area very well.
I was in Biafra for UNICEF from early September to early October, and the situation has gotten much worse since. At that time, I detected no self-pity among the Biafrans whatsoever. This is an unusual thing. You would think that people with their backs to the wall like this would at least feel sorry for themselves. Certainly there was no suicidal impulse which a lot of people say there is among the Biafrans. Instead, there was an almost pleasant resolve for economic and sociological independence and, at many levels, a sort of grim fear of what was going to happen, either through starvation or invasion were it successfully pulled off by the Nigerians. These motives keep Biafra going and I donít think you can expect a surrender to be generated from within Biafra anytime soon. Another phenomenon I noticed was the feeling of nationhood. Iím not a propagandist for Biafra by the way; I report what I have observed. Biafran currency, which is good no place else in the world except in that 4,000 square miles, is taken at face value and is not in fact, inflated. Prices are inflated of those items which are in critically short supply; but the price of those items which are plentiful, or were then, such as palm oil or bananas, is just about as it was before the war with a slight increase justified by the increase in cost of transport. There have been many deadlines given for the military collapse of Biafra. They have passed and nothing has happened. Now the generally agreed upon date is March 1st. This is the date that Washington thinks full access to a dead land will be possible. If you project the rate of starvation, what that means is that Washington is expecting that by March 1st there wont be anybody left to feed. So I urge you to call for a cease fire or in any way you can, call to the attention of the people in Washington that this dreadful reality should not occur. We shouldnít be in a position in March or wringing hands all around with sweet guilt all over us, asking how we let this happen.