geneva conference


May 7th 1954: Battle of Dien Bien Phu ends

On this day in 1954, the decisive battle of the First Indochina War at Dien Bien Phu ended with a resounding victory for the Viet Minh. The war was fought between the colonial French powers and a group of Vietnamese soldiers led by communist Ho Chi Minh. The Vietnamese forces had been battling the colonial French since the aftermath of World War Two, with each side being funded by the opposing camps of the Cold War - the Vietnamese from China, and France from the United States. In the Battle of Dien Bien Phu, the communists were led by General Vo Nguyen Giap, who encircled the French stronghold with 40,000 men and heavy artillery. After a fifty-seven day siege, the French defense crumbled and the Viet Minh were victorious. The decisive battle essentially ended the war, which led to the Geneva Conference to negotiate peace. The conference, which was attended by most of the major world powers, resulted in the division of Vietnam along the 17th Parallel. It was this division which kept tensions alive between the communist North and US-backed South, which ended in war between the two and heavy US involvement to support the South. In 1975, after the US had mostly retreated, the Southern capital of Saigon fell to the communists and the nation was once again united.

“The Viets are everywhere. The situation is very grave. The combat is confused and goes on all about. I feel the end is approaching, but we will fight to the finish”
- Christian de Castries, French commander at Dien Bien Phu, in the last hours of the siege

UN condemns 'devastating' abuse against Rohingya by Myanmar forces

Myanmar security forces are “very likely” to have committed crimes against humanity against Rohingya Muslims in recent months, U.N. human rights investigators said.

They cited an unprecedented upsurge in violence such as gang rape and brutal killings of children as young as 8 months old, at times before the eyes of their own mothers.

Myanmar PM Aung-San-Suu-Kyi Credit: STR/STR

At a press conference in Geneva, a UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights spokesperson said the Rohinghya minority had been victims of “Mass gang-rapes, killings – including of babies and young children, brutal beatings, disappearances and other serious human rights violations.”

The report is based on harrowing accounts from over 200 people among an estimated 66,000 Rohingya who have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh since October, when Myanmar’s military began a crackdown following attacks on border posts.

The UN said the vast majority witnessed killings and half of the women interviewed said they had been victims of sexual violence.

The report’s authors said most of the people interviewed accused the security forces, not civilians, of the crimes.

Some 300-thousand Rohingya Muslims have lived in Bangladesh for decades after fleeing there from Myanmar in the face of persecution by its military and majority Buddhists.

Myanmar authorities have been presented with the allegations in the report, but have not immediately responded.

The report is likely to raise pressure on the governing party of Nobel Peace Prize-winning Aung San Suu Kyi amid allegations that soldiers have been killing and raping Rohingya and burning their homes.

  “Bercovici said Einstein’s voice had become almost hysterical.

  At his press conference, Einstein was completely subdued.

  He kept saying that people should take matters into their own hands and send their own delegates to Geneva. A French reporter said Einstein talked only ‘generalities,’ then left Geneva abruptly. 

  Later, Bercovici was dining at the Bregues Hotel. Anatoli Lunacharski, head of the Russian disarmament delegation, came in and Bercovici called him over. 

  'Did you hear what Einstein said?’ asked the author.

  'A dreamer, a naïve dreamer,’ said the Russian. 'Just because he knows Mathematics, he thinks he knows everything. We need practical men–practical men, you understand?

  Einstein was mystified at the silence with which the general public greated the Geneva fiasco. He began to think that people did not really hate war at all. A few league of nations officials suggested he initiate a public discussion with another great world figure on the cause and cure of war. This might shed more light on the puzzle. Einstein thought it was a great idea. He chose Sigmund Freud. He had many reservations about Freud’s discoveries, but he counted his mind as perhaps the most original in the world.

  In his opening letter to Freud, Einstein sought to get to the root of the problem by stages. In the first place, he said, the way to enduring world peace was to set up an international legislative and judicial body to settle all arguments between countries. This meant that nations would have to surrender some of their sovereignty. But there were power-hungry cliques in every country which fiercely rejected this idea. They were ready to go to war to preserve full sovereignty or acquire more. How could these small groups of hotheads coax the masses to fight a war when wholesale suffering and death was inevitable? Obviously, reasoned Einstein, people must have an innate lust for hatred and destruction. And this lust was easily aroused. Therefore, the basic answer to preventing wars must lie in finding a way to control or lessen the destructive instinct.”

–Einstein, Profile of the Man by Peter Michelmore