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Crimes Against Humanity Conference in Belgium Explores Authoritarianism, Human Rights, and Global Issues

Prominent academics from around the world gathered at KU Leuven University in Belgium to delve into the topic of crimes against humanity. The international conference, titled “Crimes Against Humanity in the 21st Century: The Role of International Organizations,” took place on November 24-25 and tackled various aspects of the subject.

Organized by academics who have faced academic job loss in Turkey and European legal experts dedicated to addressing human rights violations in Turkey, the event found a home at Leuven University (KUL), a leading institution in Belgium and globally.

Professor Dr. Hüseyin Demir kicked off the conference with an opening speech emphasizing that crimes against humanity represent the most severe violations of human rights. He underscored the conference’s goal of understanding the root causes of these violations and called on the international community to take a stand against such atrocities. Demir urged relevant institutions and governments to take effective measures to respond to and prevent crimes against humanity.

In a panel on “State Crimes and Human Rights” during the conference, Penny Green from Queen Mary University in London presented observations on the facilitation of genocide within the framework of the United Nations’ special circumstances. Aziz Isa Elkun from SOAS discussed China’s Uyghur Genocide as a crime against humanity, characterizing it as one of the worst crimes committed by a country against a specific ethnic group since World War II. He raised alarm over the fact that over 10% of Uyghur detainees in cells died within three months, warning of the potential extinction of the Uyghur population if this continues.

Professor Dr. Mehmet Efe Çaman’s presentation on the dynamics of authoritarianism scrutinized systematic human rights violations, repression, and the regime’s efforts to dehumanize targeted groups in Turkey. Çaman commented on countries like Russia, Venezuela, Belarus, and Turkey, where elections exist but true democracy remains elusive, emphasizing that achieving a change in Turkey’s regime through democratic means seems improbable. He pointed out that Erdogan utilized legal violations against Kurds and the Gülen Movement to bolster his regime and questioned the labeling of millions of people as terrorists, calling it irrational.

The conference also featured a message of solidarity with Gaza and Palestine, with Penny Green drawing attention to Israel’s policies and military operations, which she argued meet the criteria for genocide. She stressed the importance of supporting civilians and children in Palestine and Gaza. Additionally, she highlighted the need to stand with Belgian transportation workers’ unions opposing the shipment of military equipment to Israel.

Penny Green also addressed the situation in Myanmar, stating that it constitutes a genocide, and called on the United Nations to pay special attention to the genocide in Myanmar.

Hugo Relva, a Legal Advisor at Amnesty International, noted during his presentation at the conference that persecution is not an independent crime but is always connected to another crime.

Zoë Grossi, a researcher from KU Leuven University in Belgium, emphasized in her presentation that forced disappearances, deportation or forced displacement of populations, torture, and serious deprivations of physical liberty that violate fundamental principles of international law constitute crimes against humanity.

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