June 20, 2006
Never Again?By Ophir Chador
'Having considered the declaration made by the General Assembly of the United Nations . . . The Contracting Parties confirm that genocide . . . is a crime under international law which they undertake to prevent and to punish.'
The quoted text is taken from the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide, which the United Nations adopted in 1948. Under President Ronald Reagan, America's signature was added to the Convention, representing a promise by the American people that we will actively combat any occurrence of genocide wherever it may be found.
Throughout the international community, similar promises have been made; throughout the international community, similar promises have been broken.
Upon assuming office, President Bush is said to have been extremely concerned about the Rwandan genocide that occurred some six years prior. He called on his National Security Council for a detailed analysis of the former Administration's failure to prevent the tragedy. After carefully reviewing the document, President Bush scribbled a promise in the margins: 'NOT ON MY WATCH.'
The first signs of genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan came in early 2003. At the time, two rebel groups representing the black Africans of Western Sudan became active in response to the ongoing neglect that they were suffering at the hands of the Arab—dominated government. The Sudanese government responded by arming Arab militias, known as Janjaweed, or 'evil men on horseback,' so as to quell the uprising. The Janjaweed began terrorizing, raping, and brutally murdering civilians while bombing entire villages. The Sudanese government continues to support these militias.
Today, estimates of the death toll range anywhere from 50,000 to 300,000 black villagers; some 1.2 million have been successfully cleansed from the region. Several experts fear that the death toll will eventually surpass that of the Rwandan genocide.
The Language of Genocide
According to Article II of the Convention, genocide is defined as:
The inclusion of 'intent' has been the primary source of controversy surrounding the language of the Convention. Many argue that the intent to commit genocide cannot be proven until (long) after the fact. Thus, countries that would normally be obliged to take action are instead given a reason not to.
If ethnic cleansing were the ultimate goal of the Sudanese government there would be no justification for going beyond their borders to kill refugees. Their actions to the contrary expose their true agenda: kill them all.
By 2004, the concern that surrounded the Darfur tragedy was quickly escalating to fear. Americans were convinced that genocide was taking place; they did not want to see the mistakes of the former Administration repeated.
President Bush's bold accusation took America and the international community into uncharted territory. Never before has an active government accused another of engaging in genocide since the UN adopted the Convention in 1948. More importantly, under the rules of the Convention, President Bush's accusation is tantamount to a call for action in both military and diplomatic terms. Unfortunately, the ongoing war in Iraq has been a credible — though insufficient — excuse for the United states not to physically intervene.
The International Community
In accusing the Sudanese government of engaging in genocide, President Bush brought the issue to international attention while placing other signatories to the Convention in a very uncomfortable position. During the Rwandan tragedy, the Clinton Administration actively conspired with its counterparts at the UN to avert responsibility; they decided together that labeling it genocide, which they knew it to be, would be against their collective interests. President Bush, on the other hand, acted alone when he labeled it genocide, unmoved by the interests of other UN members.
Before long, the collective voice of the UN member states — minus America — sang a familiar tune: they denied that the Sudanese government had engaged in genocide. In a single breath, the integrity of the Convention was shattered and the world's willingness to live through yet another Holocaust was confirmed. On the ashes of the Holocaust the UN was founded, and by more ashes will the UN be survived.
America has done more for the victims of this ongoing genocide than any other nation in the world, though it is not nearly enough. Indeed, with each passing deadline that the Sudanese government fails to meet, thousands more innocent people are dying. We have a duty to humankind to protect life wherever it may be threatened and if no other nation is willing to act, then we must act alone.
The United Nations has proven that the importance of self—interest trumps the importance of human life; the UN is not the solution.
The solution rests in America's devotion to freedom, democracy, and the rights of all people to life and liberty. The time has come for President Bush to inform the Sudanese government that we will no longer stand by while they continue in their genocidal campaign. President Bush must threaten the Sudanese government with the iron fist of America's military forces. We must let the entire world know that America will never again just stand by.
We must bring meaning back to those powerful never again.