Why Darfur might just be genocide

A couple of weeks ago, I blogged that it was wrong to call Darfur a genocide. I still have this belief, but, trawling through the pages of the UN’s 1948 Convention plus the more recent Rome treaty (why does everything important end up getting signed in Rome?) that set up the International Criminal Court, I think that, from a legal point of view, Darfur should without a doubt be called a genocide.

Here’s how the 1948 UN Convention defines genocide:

…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.

The other day, I met Mahmoud Osman, last year winner of the EU´s Sakharov prize, in his impossible-to-find office near Souq Arabi. He is convinced that every rationale being that looks at the Darfur issue should conclude that it is a genocide – and that it is only a matter of time before the UN, EU and ICC wake up to this fact, too. America, of course, already “woke up” to the genocide reality years ago.

This is what he said to me: “I don’t think that genocide is very much associated with numbers. It’s rather about this whole crimes against specific groups of people. The government are targeting specific ethnic groups. Their goal is ethnic cleansing. Islamamisation, Arabisation, occupation of land. The UN is wrong not to call it a genocide, but very soon it will start using this term, because no one can deny what is going on in the region. Luis Acambo, the prosecutor of the ICC, never excluded the possibility of genocide. The only thing he said is that right now he is filing charges about war crimes, because that is what he has the evidence on. But he said he wouldn’t say that there is no genocide. Maybe one day soon he will be able to collect a sufficient evidence to establish the genocide.”

Wise words. From a lawyer’s point of view, at least.

But then my conviction stands, and I still believe that it is wrong to call Darfur a genocide. In fact, I would go so far as to beseech the UN to change the definition of genocide that it is using. The problem is that the term genocide, whatever the legal waffle that no one reads might say, has dangerous overtones. It smacks of pure unadulterated evil. It brings up unsavoury images of Nazi concentration camps. Or the killing fields of Cambodia. Or the massacres among the lush green hills of Rwanda. You say genocide, you think of Hitler or Pol Pot. Omar Bashir is not the first historical politician that springs to mind. And that is quite right. I do not believe you can compare Bashir to Hitler. At least, not right now. Yes, I’m sure he’s done some rather under-hand stuff in Darfur, and the killing going in Darfur is unacceptable on every level. But genocide? You say that, you get people’s heckles up. And when you get people’s heckles up, they don’t always think all that rationally about how to deal with a country. The killing in Darfur should stop – but antagonising Bashir is not the best way to achieve this.

I wrote an article for the Institute for War and Peace Reporting the other day, which you can find here.

Even before I realised that the article had been published, I got an email from Eric Reeves, perhaps one of the most prominent critics of the Sudanese government. He gave me an interesting addendum to my article:

“in September 2004 the Parliament of the European Union voted (566 to 6, with some abstensions) to declare that realities in Darfur were “tantamount to genocide”—why this peculiar periphrasis? there’s not semantic difference between saying “genocide” and “tantamount” to genocide”: “tantamount” means equivalent in significance. But the periphrasis was sufficient to free European nations (or so they felt) from their contractual obligations under the 1948 UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide.”

I think that this implication that the UN and the EU are trying to duck their contractual obligations is a good one. Legally, they have every right (and indeed duty if these institutions are to mean anything) to call Darfur a genocide. Morally, there is a big question mark whether they should.

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3 Responses to “Why Darfur might just be genocide”

  1. William Says:

    (e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

    would make the ‘stolen generation’ in Australia genocide. An apology has now been made but is that enough if it was genocide?

  2. Shambat Says:

    It will always be a matter of definition. But I am convinced that the term “genocide” should be defined as a term only used for the most severe cases. This is how the general public sees it. And, therefore, it is dangerous and misleading to use the term in media contexts in its “broader” definition. It gives, for example, the impression that there is a Ruanda-like scenario going on in Darfur. It is not so. The term means “the murder of people”. There is no Hitler-like programme going on in Darfur. No attempt to kill off a whole population group. But there is a counter insurgency campaign going on. And this is bad enough, but it is not genocide. Not even “ethnic cleansing”.

    Another question of the term genocide is the question of the international law definition. This is requesting international action in case of “genocide”. The broader the term, the more legimity for foreign intervention into a country, for example Sudan. It is dangerous waters this discussion.

    This mr. Reeves is one of the minds from the dark empire, who has requested Western military intervention into Darfur without the consent of the Sudanese government. I hope it will continue to be in his mind only.

    If you are interested in reading more about the subject of “genocide” I can recommend the book “What is Genocide?”, Martin Shaw, Polity 2007. It is a very interesting presentation, although he ends up with one of the very broad and, in my mind, dangerous definitions which will give legitimity to extended interventions from the international society into many conflicts.

    By the way, you mentioned in another blog a UN report mentioning death figures of less than 10.000 in Darfur. Can you please give the title of this report?

  3. That G-word again « Blake Evans-Pritchard’s Weblog Says:

    […] One might, at this point, like to refer to two of my previous posts: why Darfur is not genocide and why Darfur might just be genocide. […]

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