Monday, July 10, 2006

What happened to the Genocide Convention?

[Guest-posted on the weblog of Norman Geras - Normblog]

1. In the debates over the 2003 Iraq war that began in 2002 and have continued to this day, many people who had not previously been sticklers for legalism became outspoken enthusiasts for international law, which they claim was violated by military action against Saddam Hussein and his regime. (I disagree, but that's another matter.) Of course, there were many kinds of reasons that people invoked to support or oppose the 2003 Iraq war - including moral, legal, political, 'realist' or prudential, and combinations thereof - and many people who opposed the Iraq war did so on entirely non-legalistic grounds, especially 'realist' ones. But at least some people have said that their decisive reason for opposing the war was that it was 'illegal' under international law.

I can't help being reminded of that these days as I consider the ongoing atrocity in Darfur, which Eric Reeves and others have accurately described as a case of slow-motion genocide. It so happens that most member states of the United Nations are signatories of the Genocide Convention, more precisely named the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. (For a list of non-signatories, see here.)

Please note that by signing and ratifying the Genocide Convention, these governments have assumed a legal obligation both to prevent genocide and to punish perpetrators of genocide. (There is no clause that says this obligation to punish the perpetrators ceases once they've finished the job.) Article 1 is fairly unambiguous:

The Contracting Parties confirm that genocide, whether committed in time of peace or in time of war, is a crime under international law which they undertake to prevent and to punish.
It is also worth emphasizing that, under the terms of the Genocide Convention, the legal definition of 'genocide' does not require the total extermination of the targeted group. As I'm sure all the international law enthusiasts out there are aware, Article 2 of the Convention defines genocide as follows:
In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

Some of you may think that this definition is too broad, but that's the law.

2. Saddam Hussein and the Iraqi Ba'ath regime were clearly guilty of genocide, which is a fairly rare distinction even for especially repressive and mass-murdering regimes. There is no question that the Anfal campaign of 1988-1989 in Iraqi Kurdistan constituted genocide under any serious definition. (See, for example, the 1993 Human Rights Watch report, 'Genocide in Iraq: The Anfal Campaign against the Kurds'.) And a number of people have argued, with some plausibility, that the campaign of systematic mass murder, ethnic cleansing, cultural destruction, and environmental devastation carried out against the Marsh Arabs in the mid-1990s also fits the legal definition of genocide under the Genocide Convention (e.g., see here and here and here).

As I noted earlier, most governments in the world are signatories of the Genocide Convention, and therefore had a legal (not just a moral) obligation to take action in these cases. Failure to take such action was, in fact, illegal (not just immoral). But curiously enough, I do not remember any government pressing for UN action against Saddam Hussein and his regime on the basis of the Genocide Convention. (This very much includes the US government, of course. In 1988 the US Senate, to its credit, did overwhelmingly pass the Prevention of Genocide Act protesting against genocide in Iraq and threatening sanctions, but the Reagan administration was able to block passage by the House.) Nor do I recall hearing people who opposed the Iraq war in 2002-2003 and/or who agitated against the sanctions-and-'containment' system on allegedly 'humanitarian' grounds during the 1990s calling for action to enforce the Genocide Convention against the Iraqi government - though perhaps I may have missed some examples.

3. What conclusions should we draw from this shameful story? As Michael Walzer has wisely pointed out:

It is a good idea to strengthen the UN and to take whatever steps are possible to establish a global rule of law. It is a very bad idea to pretend that a strong UN and a global rule of law already exist.
[JW: For some clarifications on relevant issues of international law and their practical implications, see Genocide & legalism (contd.).]

4. All of which brings us back to Darfur. Let me repeat part of Article 2 of the Genocide Convention, which I quoted above:
In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part...

There is no question that this sums up the strategy being pursued in Darfur by the Khartoum regime and the local militias it arms and supports. This atrocity has now been unfolding in plain view of the world for several years, but the so-called 'international community' has taken almost no serious action to stop it. And as Nick Kristof reports, in a column that should be read in full, this ongoing atrocity is actually spreading and accelerating:
A genocide by its nature would seem to be the rock bottom of human behavior. But in Darfur, we see a genocide that is growing worse.

The Darfur Peace Agreement, signed on May 5, signaled a ray of hope in a desperate land. But on the ground, its deadlines are not being met, security is deteriorating, and the violence is rippling from Sudan ever wider into both Chad and the Central African Republic. [JW: For some elaboration, see here and here.]

One measure of how awful the situation has become in eastern Chad is that at least 15,000 villagers have fled... into Darfur! [...]

In talking to experts about Darfur over the last three years, I usually have encountered both optimists and pessimists. These days, I just can't find an optimist. The range of opinion is between those who think the crisis will deteriorate slowly and those who think the situation will disintegrate so precipitously that soon 100,000 people will be dying each month, unless the peace agreement can somehow be revived.

There are specific measures I can suggest. We need to amplify (though not reopen) the peace agreement to bring the Fur in, and we need to ensure that its deadlines are met. We need a U.N.-led or French-led protection force in eastern Chad. We need to bolster the African Union force in Darfur immediately and push harder for Sudan to admit U.N. peacekeepers. We need a no-fly zone. We need to press Europeans to become more involved and to remind Arabs that the slaughter of several hundred thousand Muslims in Darfur is every bit as worthy of protest as cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.

But most of all, we must put genocide squarely on the international agenda. One lesson of history is that world leaders always prefer to ignore a genocide, but when forced to face the horrors - as in Bosnia or Kosovo - they figure out ways of responding. The most acute need is not for policies but for political will.

That is indeed the key point. Does anybody really care what is happening in Darfur - or, at least, care enough to do anything about it? Rest assured that the relevant laws are on the books. But will we ever start actually enforcing them? (Jeff Weintraub)

Posted by Norm at 02:11 PM |
====================
New York Times
Sunday, July 9, 2006
When Genocide Worsens
By Nicholas D. Kristof

A genocide by its nature would seem to be the rock bottom of human behavior. But in Darfur, we see a genocide that is growing worse.

The Darfur Peace Agreement, signed on May 5, signaled a ray of hope in a desperate land. But on the ground, its deadlines are not being met, security is deteriorating, and the violence is rippling from Sudan ever wider into both Chad and the Central African Republic.

One measure of how awful the situation has become in eastern Chad is that at least 15,000 villagers have fled ... into Darfur!

In one broad swath of the Chad border region, the only Westerners brave enough (and crazy enough) to stay are French doctors with Doctors Without Borders. Hats off to them.

In just the last six months, aid groups in eastern Chad have lost 26 vehicles to armed hijackers. A Spanish woman working for Unicef was shot and nearly killed in May when her vehicle was stolen — and the car was later spotted in Sudan, sailing through government checkpoints. This insecurity puts relief agencies in a terrible situation, for they don't want to risk having their aid workers murdered or raped, and yet if they pull out many thousands of Darfuris will die.

"We cannot play with the lives of our own staff beyond a certain limit," frets Jan Egeland, an under secretary general of the United Nations, adding, "Our people in the field are increasingly desperate."

"I think we're headed toward total chaos," he said. "Will we have collapse in nine days, nine weeks, nine months? I don't know. But the situation is unsustainable."

One problem is that provisions of the Darfur Peace Agreement aren't actually being carried out so far — and in the meantime it has inflamed tensions among the African tribes that have been victimized by the genocide. The Fur tribe, one of the biggest in Darfur ("Darfur" means "Homeland of the Fur"), has mostly opposed the deal, and so there has been fighting between Fur and men of the Zaghawa tribe, whose top commander signed the agreement.

"There is a significant risk that the Darfur Peace Agreement will collapse," the U.N. special envoy for Sudan, Jan Pronk, wrote in his blog. "The agreement does not resonate with the people of Darfur. ... It is not yet dead, but severely paralyzed."

Meanwhile, Sudan is as adamant as ever that it will never accept United Nations peacekeepers, and the international community isn't prepared to push back hard.

The two most important Bush administration officials on Darfur, Robert Zoellick and Michael Gerson (who has been the conscience of the White House), have both announced their resignations, so there is a vacuum in Washington as well. President Bush should address this vacuum by appointing a top-level envoy for the crisis. Mr. President, how about calling in James Baker, or else Colin Powell?

In talking to experts about Darfur over the last three years, I usually have encountered both optimists and pessimists. These days, I just can't find an optimist. The range of opinion is between those who think the crisis will deteriorate slowly and those who think the situation will disintegrate so precipitously that soon 100,000 people will be dying each month, unless the peace agreement can somehow be revived.

There are specific measures I can suggest. We need to amplify (though not reopen) the peace agreement to bring the Fur in, and we need to ensure that its deadlines are met. We need a U.N.-led or French-led protection force in eastern Chad. We need to bolster the African Union force in Darfur immediately and push harder for Sudan to admit U.N. peacekeepers. We need a no-fly zone. We need to press Europeans to become more involved and to remind Arabs that the slaughter of several hundred thousand Muslims in Darfur is every bit as worthy of protest as cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.

But most of all, we must put genocide squarely on the international agenda. One lesson of history is that world leaders always prefer to ignore a genocide, but when forced to face the horrors — as in Bosnia or Kosovo — they figure out ways of responding. The most acute need is not for policies but for political will.

So here's a suggestion: Let's charter a few cargo planes to carry the corpses of hundreds of new victims from Darfur and Chad to the U.N. The butchered victims of Darfur could lie in state as a memorial to global indifference — and as a spur to become serious about the first genocide of the 21st century.

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