Tuesday, July 31, 2007


Posted by confused, maybe not , 8/1/07

Dr. Raphael Lemkin was horrified by the Armenian genocide, and was virtually broken when his family was murdered in Nazi concentration camps. But Dr. Lemkin’s concern for human life resurrected him into a force for human rights. Coining the term genocide, helping draft the treaty that became international law, the genocide convention, Dr. Lemkin spent a decade and a half relentlessly lobbying (to the annoyance of many) for the passage of the genocide convention. He succeeded with the UN, but the United States would not pass it until the Reagan administration. Dr. Lemkin died penniless on August 28th, 1959 “of a heart attack in the public relations office of Milton H. Blow on Park Avenue, his blazer leaking papers at the seams.” The New York Times memorialized him:

"Diplomats of this and other nations who used to feel a certain concern
when they saw the slightly stooped figure of Dr. Raphael Lemkin
approaching them in the corridors of the United Nations need not be
uneasy anymore. They will not have to think up explanations for a
failure to ratify the genocide convention for which Dr. Lemkin worked so
patiently and so unselfishly for a decade and a half…. Death in action was
his final argument – a final word to our own State Department, which has
feared that an agreement not to kill would infringe upon our sovereignty."

“Seven People attended Lemkin’s funeral.”
(Taken from Samantha Powers Pulitzer prize winning book, “A PROLBEM FROM HELL: AMERICA and the AGE OF GENOCIDE.” Page 78.)

Although he’s dead, Dr. Lemkin’s lips are moved when we fight genocide. His work has given us a moral and legal frame through which to understand murderous horrors perpetrated by leaders against ethnic, racial, religious, or political groups. Yet, one would be hard pressed to find a case where genocide was stopped by the signatories of the genocide convention, with the exception of Kosovo. In many respects this is the partial fault of us, citizens, as the following example shows.

Former Colorado Representative Patricia Schroeder showed a candid moment for a politician when asked about the genocide in Rwanda. She commented that congressional legislation to help the Gorillas of Rwanda (during the genocide) was inspired by letters to congressional offices on behalf of the Gorillas. Letters were not received demanding action on behalf of humans being murdered. Thus, nothing was (legislatively) done for the Rwandans snared in the genocide. Former Illinois Senator Paul Simon said, “If every member of the House and Senate had received 100 letters from people back home saying we have to do something about RWNDA, when the crisis was first developing, then I think the response would have been different.” (Powers, pages 374-377.)

Their point is that citizens are a catalyst for governmental action or inaction. Though, citizens did not have as much access to the events in Rwanda as we have to global happenings today. Information generally came from government officials and journalists that were not in Rwanda. The internet has changed this.


The ability for those in genocidal regions to text message, call, record events with cell-phones, upload photos and videos onto the net - provide journalists, NGOs, government agencies and people like you and me beyond genocide virtual access to genocidal regions. Google allows one to survey lands (from satellite photos) where genocide is inflicted. You can literally see the burned out villages in Darfur. This is remarkable. Historically, governments like the United States used to say, as in WWII, “We are aware of concentration camps, but we are unable to confirm reports of mass murder.”

Determining that genocide was taking place required one to go to the region, which rarely happened; perpetrators of genocide normally did not allow outsiders to view the murdering. In addition, fact finders needed to find refugees, record their stories and find collaborating stories to verify them. This was more difficult than one might imagine. One, most victims (witnesses) had been murdered. Two, getting to the refugees was not always easy, and refugees sometimes exaggerated events and conveyed events they did not personally witness. Historically, medical check ups for refugees sometimes showed traces of genocide, especially when chemicals were used. But depending on the interests of the medical professionals, bodily signs of suffering genocide were sometimes attributed to environmental causes that had nothing to do with genocide, such as when U.S. medical experts examined Kurds who were gassed, but survived and escaped Sadaam Hussein’s chemical assault. The misdirection of genocidal evidence happened for a variety of reasons. Two of which were: Outsiders had a hard time believing genocide was occurring. Victims’ stories were often beyond the listener’s ability to imagine. Two, sometimes outside countries had a vested interest in denying that genocide was taking place, such as the U.S. response to Sadaam Hussein’s genocide against the Kurds and the U.S. responses to Bosnia and Rwanda. When mass murder is defined as genocide, signatories of the genocide convention are legally bound to try and stop it. When it is not in a countries interest to stop the genocide, the leaders of the country will often dispute the claim of genocide by complicating the issue. For example, during the Bosnian Genocide, former U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher responded to questions of genocide in Bosnia with the following:

Secretary Christopher: “With respect to genocide, the definition of genocide is a fairly technical definition. Let me just get it for you here….. I would say that some of the acts that have been committed by various parties in Bosnia, principally by the Serbians, could constitute genocide under the 1948 convention, if their purpose was to
Destroy the religious or ethnic group in whole or in part. And that seems to me to be
a standard that may well have been reached n some of the aspects of Bosnia. Certainly some of the conduct there is tantamount to genocide.” ( Powers, page 319.)

Secretary Christopher’s use of “could constitute genocide” suggests that more facts are needed to determine if it is genocide. Furthermore, his use of “tantamount” also complicates the issue. Tantamount may mean the equivalent to, but it does not mean exactly the same. Christopher did not deny the obvious horrors, but he obfuscated or sidestepped defining the horrors as genocide to avoid legally binding the U.S. to a course of action. Leaders will work to make sure the horror is framed in ways that cater to the countries interest, which are often valid. We see this in the following exchange between former Indiana Representative McCloskey and former Secretary of State Christopher.

Rep. McCloskey: “… when the history books are written, we cannot say that we allowed genocide because health care was a priority. We cannot say that we allowed genocide because the American people were more concerned with domestic issues. History will record, Mr. Secretary, that this happened on our watch, on your watch, that you and the [Clinton] administration could and should have done more. I plead to you, there are hundreds of thousands of people that can still die…. I plead for you and the administration to make a more aggressive – to take a more aggressive interest in this.”

Secretary Christopher: “At rock bottom, you would be willing to put hundreds of thousands of American troops into Bosnia to compel a settlement satisfactory to the Bosnian government. I would not do so…. I do not believe we should put hundreds of thousands of troops into Bosnia to compel a settlement. I’d go on to say, Mr. McCloskey, that it seems to me that your very strong feelings on this subject have
affected adversely your judgment.”

Each has framed the issue differently. McCloskey's tours of the region had rightly convinced him that hundreds of thousands of people were going to die. Serbian run concentration camps were soon discovered in the region. Christopher framed the atrocities as a multi-ethnic conflict in need of a settlement that should not overly favor the Bosnians.
Today, such exchanges would hopefully be complicated by the abundance of evidence from wireless technology. With this technology, one might think that responses to genocide would be faster; maybe they are, but not quick enough for those murdered and about to be murdered.


Genocide is presently being sponsored in Darfur by a Sudanese government that receives a great deal of its genocidal hardware from Sudanese oil buying China. Approximately two to four hundred thousand people have been murdered in Darfur and two million have been ethnically cleaned out of the region since 2003. Planes that attack or bear arms for the genocide are often painted white to look like UN planes, which confuses civilians and relief workers on the ground.

President Bush and the U.S. congress are leading the international response to this horror. The U.S. has done more for the victims of Darfur than any other country, which is disheartening, for we’re hardly doing anything. But here’s what we are doing. The United States has donated close to a billion dollars in aide; I believe the U.S. is the first country to acknowledge this as genocide, which makes it an issue for international law. Furthermore, in October of 2006, congress passed the “Darfur Peace and Accountability Act” that was signed by President Bush. This act calls for sanctions on individuals and governments responsible for the genocide in Sudan and authorizes funds for peacekeeping and humanitarian efforts. On June 5, 2007 Congress passed House Resolution 422, which calls on China to end its support for the Sudanese government and to cut commercial ties with it. This resolution passed 410-0. But notice that it only calls on China to do this, which means nothing is going to happen. And as of yesterday, the threat of sanctions is off the table. The UN Security Council approved sending 26,000 peace keepers from the African Union and the United Nations into Darfur. This force will not attack those committing violence, but will be positioned to protect humanitarian workers and civilians from attack. The peace keepers will monitor the use of illegal weapons, but are not mandated to apprehend and dispose of such weapons. Sadly, the force will not be complete until October. The resolution also removes the threat of sanctions.

It should come as no surprise that the Security Council, in which China is one of five permanent members with veto power, approved a sanction free resolution that sends 26,000 peace keeping soldiers who are authorized to do little more than watch, and even that’s two months away. On the other hand, fighting guerilla based genocide would most likely spell disaster for the 26,000 troops. Let’s hope the presence of the peace keepers brings enough exposure to stop the murdering. If it doesn’t, and in the mean time, what should we do?


Stopping genocide is complex and difficult. Countries often explain they cannot stop an active genocide for a number of reasons. One, countries are sovereign entities and are accordingly free to exercise domestic policies. (For example, the UN would legally be unable to send troops to Sudan if the Sudanese government did not agree to host them and also agree on what the peace keepers can and cannot do.) Countries that commit genocide often argue they are fighting an insurrection, which is sometimes true, as is the case in Sudan, but most of the victims are not part of an insurrection. In such cases, a government holds an entire people accountable for the actions of a few, arguing one cannot tell the difference between insurrectionists and civilians. (For example, such arguments were made in the following genocides; the U.S. and the Native populations, Turkey and the Armenians, Iraq and the Kurds, Serbia and the Bosnian/Kosovo Muslims, etc.) Two, proof is needed that genocide is taking place. Up until recently, proof was hard to come by. Three, if it is determined to be taking place and troops are brought in to both protect and ensure that supplies get to the refugees, these troops need to be protected, which means committing many more troops, and perhaps committing to war. (E.G. Somalia in the early nineties, although there was no government to hold accountable in Somalia, so it may be too different to compare.) A ‘no fly zone’ is an alternative to ground troops.

One lesson learned before the Unites States’ second major war with Iraq was that when there was a no fly zone, Shia and Kurdish populations were far more secure, and Hussein’s genocidal actions toward both groups stopped. No fly zones are difficult, though. One cannot determine how long one must exercise them. They are expensive and cost the lives of many soldiers enforcing them. On the other hand, as I write this, hundreds of people are being murdered in Darfur and by the 14th of August up to five thousand people will be dead from exposure to genocide. A no fly zone would most likely be more effective at stopping the genocide than the 26,000 peace keepers who will not fully arrive until October and who are empowered to do very little, not to mention ground troops may be more at risk than those enforcing a no fly zone.

What do you think we should do? Should we have a back up plan? What happens to Darfur’s populace from now to October? What happens if the peace keepers prove ineffective at stopping the genocide? Should we assert that if peace keepers are unable to immediately stop the genocide, we will sanction China, impose stronger sanctions against Sudan, and set up a no fly zone? What about Europe’s role? Do we push the Europeans who have done very little to do more and perhaps prepare to enact a no fly zone, or prepare to use NATO for one? If the European’s balk, should the U.S. set one up?

On a final note, I have a request. On behalf of someone in Darfur, take twenty minutes and e-mail your federally elected officials and President Bush. (Believe it or not, you will receive a snail mail response thanking you for your concern.) Express your concern and if you desire stronger actions, ask them to do more, such as protest the removal of sanctions from the UN resolution, sanction China, and call more attention to this horror by sending Secretary Rice to the region.