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WILPF Secretary General’s Urgent Call for the Prevention of Genocide

As world leaders hastily pick sides, we teeter on the edge of an impending nightmare: a possible genocide. WILPF Secretary General, Madeleine Rees, issues a resounding plea for all states to prioritise saving lives over politics, emphasising that “our common humanity demands no less.” The deteriorating humanitarian situation, escalating hostilities, and inflammatory rhetoric necessitate an immediate response. It’s imperative to end this cycle of slaughter and sorrow.

Image credit: Shahab Mahoozi
Madeleine Rees
13 October 2023

We are on the brink of something appalling. We read it we hear it, we fear it, we feel it- even at a distance. We are being forced to choose sides, as we were in 2001 and 9/11. “With us or against us.” The right of revenge seems to have become a norm of international law: it is not. Not for Hamas, not for Israel. Who is speaking for those who want peace, real peace, who understand loss and want an ending to their pain and the pain of others who were also left to mourn. An Israeli woman wrote this:

‘We are often accused, the left, of double loyalty. And on days like this I really feel it. No loyalty and no duplicity are correct words here, and I will explain, but the sentiment is correct…. Double loyalty” is seeing both this and that with tears in your eyes.
It’s a moment to talk to friends who don’t know if their family members are dead or abducted and why to hope, and see the helplessness, the fear, the deep pain. And a moment later talking to a friend from Gaza that all he has to say is that every night now is the scariest night of his life. That he calculates his chances, and of his childhood, to wake up tomorrow morning.

“Double loyalty” is letting the heart break from both this and that.
It’s to hold this moment between the brokenness and the pain and the shock over the deletion of Nir Oz, and to think about all the people there, between the anxiety of the deleting of Sajaia, and to think of all the people there.’

World leaders have rushed to pick sides, whilst we are creeping towards something terrifying:  a possible genocide. The word itself draws the oxygen out of the room, particularly when it comes to law, it is a crime which defies comprehension, so we avoid its use. We refuse to see the evidence as it emerges towards a possibility.

Let us be honest: In Israel and Gaza we have potential genocide. It has been argued that the attacks by Hamas had genocidal intent, the continuation of that violence and the possibility of external intervention in support should and is bringing international attention to prevent further escalation. But what of Israel?

Statements of human rights experts, of INGOs monitoring the situation are all pointing to the commission of crimes against humanity and possible war crimes. The list has history. Gaza is currently under siege and the civilian population is trapped without water, food, electricity. One million people have been given 24 hours to leave before some unspecified terrible event happens. An impossibility for those not able bodied, about to give birth, injured or simply too small to make it alone. And in any case, there is nowhere to go.

Can we not look to what we have said before in relation to violence on this scale and prevent it from happening again?

The Convention for the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide has been ratified by most States and has been incorporated into international customary law; States have a duty to prevent genocide.

Article 1 of the Convention for the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide asserts that ‘genocide, whether committed in time of peace or in time of war, is a crime under international law which [States] undertake to prevent and to punish.’

The International Court of Justice has given guidance on responsibilities: what should be done, by whom and when. It came from the decision in Bosnia v Serbia in relation to the genocide at Srebrenica, also an enclave, also surrounded, also with nowhere to run to. The ICJ said:

First principles:

‘It has been the Court’s opinion that the prevention of genocide is a legal obligation, and it is a justiciable obligation that one State effectively owes to the citizens of another State, outside its own territory.

Responsibility is incurred ‘if the State manifestly failed to take all measures to prevent genocide which were within its power, and which might have contributed to preventing the genocide.’

What this means is that States must use ‘due diligence’, a concept in international human rights law in relation to the positive obligation of a State to act in response to threats to human rights including life and security.

The extent of the responsibility:

The first parameter is the State’s capacity to influence the action of persons likely to commit, or committing, genocide. This capacity depends on geographical distance from the scene of events, the strength of political links, as well as ‘links of all other kinds’, such as ‘the strength of the political, military and financial links’ between the State’s authorities and the main actors in the events.

The Court goes on to emphasise the importance of collective responsibility, for ‘the possibility remains that the combined efforts of several States, each complying with its obligation to prevent, might have achieved the result – averting the commission of genocide – which the efforts of only one State were insufficient to produce’. In the current situation, the list of states is self evident, inter alia, the United States, the United Kingdom, the European Union, the regional powers and members of the Security Council whose obligation it is to act on threats to International Peace and Security. Let us also not forget Iran and the influence it exerts on state and non-state actors in the region.

The ICJ applied a broad test of actualor constructive knowledge, according to which ‘the duty to act arise[s] at the instant that the State learns of, or should normally have learned of, the existence of a serious risk that genocide will be committed.’

We say that test has been met. There is now a duty to act. In so doing no one is gainsaying the horror of the attack by Hamas rather we seek to address the words and pain of those most affected and who want this cycle of slaughter and sorrow to just stop.

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Madeleine Rees Portrait

Madeleine Rees

Madeleine Rees is a British lawyer and Secretary-General of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), a role she has held since 2010. For most of her adult life, Rees has worked nationally and internationally to advance human rights, eliminate discrimination, and remove obstacles to justice. As Secretary-General of WILPF, Rees is leading the organisation’s efforts to work through national and international legal frameworks to advance a future of human security and justice for all.

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Melissa Torres


Prior to being elected Vice-President, Melissa Torres was the WILPF US International Board Member from 2015 to 2018. Melissa joined WILPF in 2011 when she was selected as a Delegate to the Commission on the Status of Women as part of the WILPF US’ Practicum in Advocacy Programme at the United Nations, which she later led. She holds a PhD in Social Work and is a professor and Global Health Scholar at Baylor College of Medicine and research lead at BCM Anti-Human Trafficking Program. Of Mexican descent and a native of the US/Mexico border, Melissa is mostly concerned with the protection of displaced Latinxs in the Americas. Her work includes training, research, and service provision with the American Red Cross, the National Human Trafficking Training and Technical Assistance Centre, and refugee resettlement programs in the U.S. Some of her goals as Vice-President are to highlight intersectionality and increase diversity by fostering inclusive spaces for mentorship and leadership. She also contributes to WILPF’s emerging work on the topic of displacement and migration.

Jamila Afghani


Jamila Afghani is the President of WILPF Afghanistan which she started in 2015. She is also an active member and founder of several organisations including the Noor Educational and Capacity Development Organisation (NECDO). Elected in 2018 as South Asia Regional Representative to WILPF’s International Board, WILPF benefits from Jamila’s work experience in education, migration, gender, including gender-based violence and democratic governance in post-conflict and transitional countries.

Sylvie Jacqueline Ndongmo


Sylvie Jacqueline NDONGMO is a human rights and peace leader with over 27 years experience including ten within WILPF. She has a multi-disciplinary background with a track record of multiple socio-economic development projects implemented to improve policies, practices and peace-oriented actions. Sylvie is the founder of WILPF Cameroon and was the Section’s president until 2022. She co-coordinated the African Working Group before her election as Africa Representative to WILPF’s International Board in 2018. A teacher by profession and an African Union Trainer in peace support operations, Sylvie has extensive experience advocating for the political and social rights of women in Africa and worldwide.

WILPF Afghanistan

In response to the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban and its targeted attacks on civil society members, WILPF Afghanistan issued several statements calling on the international community to stand in solidarity with Afghan people and ensure that their rights be upheld, including access to aid. The Section also published 100 Untold Stories of War and Peace, a compilation of true stories that highlight the effects of war and militarisation on the region. 

IPB Congress Barcelona

WILPF Germany (+Young WILPF network), WILPF Spain and MENA Regional Representative

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WILPF uses feminist analysis to argue that militarisation is a counter-productive and ill-conceived response to establishing security in the world. The more society becomes militarised, the more violence and injustice are likely to grow locally and worldwide.

Sixteen states are believed to have supplied weapons to Afghanistan from 2001 to 2020 with the US supplying 74 % of weapons, followed by Russia. Much of this equipment was left behind by the US military and is being used to inflate Taliban’s arsenal. WILPF is calling for better oversight on arms movement, for compensating affected Afghan people and for an end to all militarised systems.

Militarised masculinity

Mobilising men and boys around feminist peace has been one way of deconstructing and redefining masculinities. WILPF shares a feminist analysis on the links between militarism, masculinities, peace and security. We explore opportunities for strengthening activists’ action to build equal partnerships among women and men for gender equality.

WILPF has been working on challenging the prevailing notion of masculinity based on men’s physical and social superiority to, and dominance of, women in Afghanistan. It recognizes that these notions are not representative of all Afghan men, contrary to the publicly prevailing notion.

Feminist peace​

In WILPF’s view, any process towards establishing peace that has not been partly designed by women remains deficient. Beyond bringing perspectives that encapsulate the views of half of the society and unlike the men only designed processes, women’s true and meaningful participation allows the situation to improve.

In Afghanistan, WILPF has been demanding that women occupy the front seats at the negotiating tables. The experience of the past 20 has shown that women’s presence produces more sustainable solutions when they are empowered and enabled to play a role.

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