PDF: 06 Genocide
The distinction between war and genocide is a modern one. Throughout history, a lost battle often meant genocide for an entire population. In more modern times, most conflicts — certainly not all — have been about political suzerainty and control of resources. That said, the finger has never been far from the trigger of leaving alive nothing that breatheth – the Japanese in Nanking, Germany in Russia, Russia in Germany, and some isolated cases in every war by all armies since. Since 1945, over seventy million people have been killed in at least 55 genocides and systematic political killings.* Most of these people have been killed by their own governments.
The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide was adopted by the UN General Assembly on 9 December 1948 (entry into force 12 January 1951) following the systematic slaughter by the German Third Reich. The Convention defines genocide as any act – whether during war or not –committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: Since some States refuse extradition for political crimes, the Convention specifically states that acts of genocide may not be classed as political crimes for the purpose of extradition. The full scope of acts constituting genocide is not widely known – (Article 2) killing, serious bodily or mental harm, inflicting conditions of life calculated to bring about physical destruction, imposing measures intended to prevent births; transferring children of the group to another group. In short, genocide is not just mass murder with racial motivation. It starts not with the act of killing but with the act of differentiation and then any acts that disadvantage that differentiated group.
This clearer understanding of genocide (as defined in the Convention) shows where the term is often misused. It explains why the UN has seemed to vacillate over Darfur. If the circumstances show that a group is being massacred not because of who they are but because of where they are living (consuming precious water resources perhaps) the label of genocide may not apply. Media may be vociferously critical of this but that is to miss the point and the true strength of the Convention. Mass murder is unlawful in all circumstance, in time of war or not and such acts are no less actionable for not falling within the Convention. The true power of the convention is to make unlawful acts which were policy of even Western governments in recent generations. The conditions of life provisions (as well as killing) would apply to in numerous cases to the treatment of Amerindians in North and South America; the transferring children provision would apply in many colonized places with indigenous populations (the “Lost Generation” cases in Australia). Similarly, the Convention probably applies to China’s “cultural genocide” in Tibet.
Differentiation (discrimination) is the key; not killing. Article 3 describes punishable acts, apart from acts of genocide, to include conspiracy, incitement, attempt, and complicity to commit genocide. Because the Convention requires signatories to promulgate local legislation against applicable acts, several developed nations have instituted racial vilification legislation. In some places this has led to absurd extremes of political correctness.
Genocide-Watch has done much work in this area and its lobbying contributed to creation of an office of Special Advisor on the Prevention of Genocide in the UN in July 2004. The first occupant, Juan E. Méndez of Argentina, has a staff of two. Though this initiative is laudable, lobbyist say little will be achieved without an arms-and-legs component, a Genocide Prevention Center, which would collect and analyze. Genocide-Watch has produced a predictive model based on The Eight Stages of Genocide characterized as classification, symbolization, dehumanization, organization, polarization, preparation, extermination, denial. A collection and analysis center would use models such as this to feed a threats and warnings system. But member states – for reasons best known to them and suspected by others — continue to deny UN agencies the independent intelligence function such a Center would need.
Ethnic cleansing, forced relocation, systematic privation all have roots in identification (classification) of a group as somehow inferior or hostile. Examples abound — the Turkish massacre and deportation of Armenians, the German deportation and massacre of Jews, Slavs, Gypsies, and others, Japan in China, Italy in Ethiopia, Hutu / Tutsi in Burundi and Rwanda, various massacres in former Yugoslavia. Possibly the list also includes Indonesia in East Timor and Sudan in Darfur but it would probably not include the killing fields of Cambodia which claimed two million lives, 30% of the population, because victims were of no particular group but each and every person an apocalyptic regime saw as a threat. This is one of the capricious consequences of the concept of genocide – the trivializing of non-genocidal mass slaughter, politicide as it is sometimes called. The disappeared of Latin America should bring as much outrage and retribution as any genocide.
The only authority the UN has is ceded to it by member states. Many see little reason to be optimistic that member states, and the even more problematic Security Council, will overcome their “idolatry of national sovereignty” sufficiently to authorize and implement the necessary mechanisms for fast, authoritative, and forceful intervention in genocide events. The UN is routinely blamed for being slow, indecisive, or incompetent but that, failing proof to the contrary, is a function of member states. Chapter VII of the UN Charter sets out the UN Security Council’s powers to maintain international peace and security. The Council can declare Chapter VII to be applicable to an issue such as a process of genocide and (under Article 42) may take such action by air, sea, or land forces as may be necessary to maintain or restore international peace and security. The Security Council has not yet used these peace-making powers to prevent or stop genocide.
*some factual material is from http://www.genocidewatch.org
Populations need to be taught that there are more sins in the world than genocide. In the modern connected world, genocide in fact is the most easy of high crimes to identify and, more importantly, to foresee and prevent. By contrast arbitrary serial killing by the State – politicide, democide, extra-judicial killing – is far more difficult to foresee and track and thus a more deadly threat. Charges and rumors of these acts should be taken just as seriously as genocide. Similarly race crimes appearing in Germany, UK and other parts of Europe are obvious warnings of a deep, perhaps intractable political problem.
The underpinning immorality behind genocide is collective punishment – persecution of a group for perceived shortcomings of a few. Some would claim that Israel’s recent action in Lebanon and wide allied netting in Afghanistan are examples of collective punishment and that perception does nothing to uphold global moral standards. By contrast, the US has resisted profiling in its Homeland Security efforts but this almost certainly will be to its cost which may bring a popular racial backlash that will undo any laudable motives. Classification – associated with respectful treatment –for clear and present national security reasons would be specifically permitted under the Covenant on Human Rights.
Globalization is bringing a time of the greatest immigration and ethnic mixing ever experienced. Although Man is a great trader he also seems to wired for distrusting strangers. Even if States are convinced that genocide (any arbitrary murder) is a perfidy, their populations may take longer to convince. It will be increasingly necessary to educate populations — from Sesame Street to the Senate – that global admixture is here to stay and that discrimination, collective punishment, race-based vilification or violence will come to no good. Genocide is just the tip of that iceberg.