Benjamin Whitaker passed away a few days ago at the age of 79. Whitaker had many distinctions, including authorship of the principal United Nations report on the Genocide Convention. He produced the report in 1985, when he was a member of the Sub-Commission on the Prevention of Discrimination and the Protection of Minorities. It was an expert body subordinate to the Commission on Human Rights that dates back to the very beginnings of the United Nations. The Sub-Commission disappeared in the 2006 reform of the United Nations institutions.
Whitaker described genocide as ‘the ultimate human rights problem’. He argued in favour amending the 1948 Genocide Convention in order to comprise a broader range of protected groups, including political groups and groups based upon sexual orientation, amongst other changes.
The Sub-Commission had worked on the subject of genocide since the 1970s. An earlier rapporteur of the Sub-Commission had produced a report that spoke of the Armenian genocide but he withdrew the reference after pressure was put on him by Turkish diplomats. The Sub-Commission then asked Whitaker to produce a revised document. Whitaker’s report left no ambiguity about the Armenian genocide. It was cited as authority by a French court in 1995 during a libel trial concerning historian Bernard Lewis.
Many of Whitaker’s other important accomplishments are set out in the fine obituary by Geoffrey Robertson in today’s Guardian. There is also a Wikipedia entry.