Human rights summit commemorates one genocide, ignores another

UConn’s Dodd Center for Human Rights is pictured. The Human Rights Summit held at The Dodd Center on Wednesday did not address the genocide of Palestinians in Gaza. File photo/The Daily Campus

The death toll in Gaza as a result of airstrikes conducted by the State of Israel have exceeded 8,300 — over 3,400 of which are children —according to Gaza health officials. While foreign nationals and critically-injured civilians in the Gaza Strip have been allowed to flee the devastated and besieged strip through the tightly-controlled Rafah border crossing to Egypt, over half of the population remains displaced and vulnerable to what activists and United Nations officials are calling a genocide against Palestinians. 
Internet blackouts exacerbated by Israel’s bombardment continue to obscure the true toll on the people and infrastructure in the Gaza Strip; however, the world has already been made witness to a number of atrocities taking place there. This includes the mass displacement of over one million Palestinians, bombing of civilian infrastructure such as refugee camps and family homes, deprivation of medical resources and collective starvation of the already beleaguered population. The Daily Campus Editorial Board stands with Palestinians and activists around the world calling for an end to the genocide of Palestinians in Gaza, which is quickly emerging as one of the most pressing and visible humanitarian catastrophes of our time. 
This urgency was not addressed, however, by human rights scholars at the University of Connecticut’s inaugural Human Rights Summit held at The Dodd Center Wednesday, Oct. 25. 

The summit, called “Human Rights and the Global Assault on Democracy,” according to UConn Today, sought to “examine the key human rights challenges of our time and generate new ideas to promote social justice and human dignity globally.” The Summit involved the dedication of the Thomas J. Dodd Prize in International Justice and Human Rights to the Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial Center in Kyiv, Ukraine, which commemorates the tens of thousands of Jewish Ukrainians killed in a massacre during the Holocaust. The Summit also unveiled the “Russian War Crimes exhibit” to further illuminate crimes committed by Russia during the war in Ukraine. 

A notable attendee associated with the Babyn Yar memorial was Natan Sharansky, a former minister and deputy prime minister who served under four successive Israeli governments, according to UConn Today. As Minister without Portfolio, Sharansky chaired a committee responsible for expanding illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank by seizing Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem, according to a 2005 Mother Jones interview with Sharansky. 
By the time the Summit was held, the bombardment in Gaza had been an ongoing tragedy for over two weeks, with a number of war crimes — namely attacks on civilians — having already been committed by the State of Israel, as well as Hamas. While the Editorial Board understands the rigidity demanded of planners for events as major as a summit, we are disappointed that our university’s leading voice in human rights was silent about the lives of Palestinians in Gaza. It is disheartening, additionally, that a summit rightfully decrying war crimes and genocide in past eras was unwilling and unfit to decry those which are currently unfolding before our eyes. 

The Editorial Board has previously discussed UConn’s systemic sidelining of Palestinian students and Palestinians in general in order to obfuscate criticisms of the State of Israel’s crimes and support people of oppressed nationalities equally. That pattern of neglect and unfair treatment continues with this summit. 

A key example of this that student advocates for Palestine have raised in recent weeks the disparity between the university’s support for Ukrainians facing aggression by Russia versus their silence on the nearly one-sided violence taking place in Gaza. In an address to the UConn community shortly after the invasion, President Radenka Maric described “watching in horror as war tears through Ukraine, innocent lives are lost, and beautiful cities are destroyed.” As the same horrific scenes play out today in Palestinian villages and cities, no commensurate support has been given for Palestinian students whose families and neighbors are living under the omnipresent umbrella of missiles and unbreathable dust

The Editorial Board also questions the optics of inviting a former minister for the State of Israel — one who was a leading advocate for the settler-colonial practice of land theft from Palestinians — to a summit concerning human rights and democracy. This represents an oversight from the summit’s organizers at best and, at worst, an endorsement of the rights violations to which Palestinians are subjected daily. Additionally, we ask if human rights advocates at UConn would ever invite a member of the Russian Federation who, for example, supported the 2014 annexation of Crimea to speak at The Dodd Center. The Editorial Board holds that the answer to this question is a resounding “no.” 

By continuing to equivocate on the crisis in Gaza by refusing to condemn the scale of the violence committed by the State of Israel, UConn remains one of many American institutions that are passively — if not actively — supporting genocide. Students, staff and faculty who oppose the needless suffering of Palestinians at the hands of airstrikes and a siege must recognize the responsibility they have to speak out and make themselves heard by this institution’s leaders. We cannot tolerate our university gaining clout by commemorating historical atrocities while ignoring those of today. 

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