Consider for a moment if the Holocaust were known as “the
humanitarian crisis that occurred in Germany before and during the
Second World War.” This label ignores the nature of the
victims, the crime, and the criminals. And well-meaning citizens of
future eras could assume that preventing another such crisis required
only increasing the capacity of humanitarian organizations—when in fact
preventing another Holocaust requires stopping the growth of certain
sorts of regimes, and intervening when such regimes pursue programs
that can only be called evil. Longer term, it requires rooting out
racism and ethnocentrism and stopping the use of these scourges by
The 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide
was the single most important element of international law to be
adopted in response to the Holocaust. It was intended to be the
embodiment in law of the commitment “never again.”
Unfortunately, the result has been “never intervene” rather than “never again.”
The Convention apparently has never been used to prevent a genocide.
According to my reading of history, and fact checking in the
comprehensive book on Genocide written by Samantha Power of Harvard, no US president has ever intervened to stop a genocide in the 55 years since the Convention was adopted.
What we do is punish the criminals after the fact. We currently have
local trials going on in Rwanda, a show trial in the Hague of Milosevic
(now on recess because of his ill health) and we look forward to the
trial of Saddan Hussein, as well as to that of Charles Taylor of
Liberia. All will likely be convicted of crimes against humanity. So
what? Public trials after the fact may absolve our consciences
(falsely, I believe) but they do not protect victims nor do they deter
In order to protect people and deter genocide we need to:
(1) Be willing to make use of the Genocide Convention: invoke it, and to threaten to invoke it in order to deter evil regimes;
(2) Embrace the Convention’s mandate to intervene to prevent genocidal
situations from reaching full tragic proportions: Invoke the Convention
on the basis of indicators of intent and means to commit genocide. Do
not be limited to genocide fully accomplished.
(3) Establish agreed-upon operational criteria for determining when a situation is genocidal.
(4) Establish a trusted, independent body to study situations that
appear to be genocidal, with the power to find facts, enter contested
territory, and interview victims.
(5) Establish a forum and process for deciding whether a situation is
genocidal. This would not have to the UN Security Council—it could be a
council of the US government. Indeed, every major nation could have
(6) Establish in advance resources for military in addition to
humanitarian intervention to prevent or stop genocide. This must be
done by nations, because NGOs do not have the resources, mandates or
international legal protections to set up military forces.
(7) Pick a “next test case” and intervene. In so doing we (a) set a
precedent for intervention, (b) show potentially genocidal regimes that
we are credible agents of intervention—and thus to be feared if
appropriate, (c) develop our capabilities for intervention and for
Which brings me to Darfur and Sudan. There is no better test case for intervention, for the following reasons:
(1) The situation in Darfur clearly meets the test of genocide.
Jennifer Leaning and Physicians for Human Rights have developed “indicators of genocide” and collected data to show that Sudan is in violation.
(2) The need is great. The regime has proven itself brazenly
untrustworthy for two decades, as well as over the past two weeks. It
will continue genocide until intervention happens, or until its
genocidal aims are met.
(3) Sudan is no Iraq. It has a small military, and uses primitive
methods to accomplish its genocidal aims—essentially, engineered mass
migration and famine. Thus the military intervention itself would not
be expensive, and could be accomplished by African peacekeeping forces
paid for by either the UN or the United States.
(4) The post-conflict humanitarian intervention will be less expensive
after military intervention than without it because the world will be
able to safeguard aid workers and supplies and prevent theft. In
addition, local resources can be brought to bear, such as using the
Sudanese national railroad to transport food.
President Bush will take a truly historic step of world leadership if the US government labels Darfur a genocide.
Human Rights enforcement will never be the same. A new Bush Doctrine,
of prevention of crimes against humanity, will stand alongside the
doctrine of prevention of terrorism.
Finally, protection of human rights and prevention of terrorism go hand in hand.
Afghanistan and Iraq were guilty of human rights violations for years.
Sudan harbored Osama bin Laden during his time of greatest innovation
and development. North Korea is both a human rights violator and a
rogue nation. Liberia destabilized western Africa and destroyed decades
of economic and social progress. Intervening to stop genocide is the
first step in being able to stop human rights abusers from enacting a
wider range of crimes. And stopping nations that are human rights
abusers may turn out to be an important step in ripping up the roots of
Both Kofi Annan and Colin Powell—as well as Human Rights Watch and
Amnesty International—are ducking the use of the term “genocide.” They
prefer not to venture into uncharted waters of international law and
intervention. They prefer the status quo of slow diplomacy and UN
Security Council resolutions—and perhaps eventual UN peacekeeping
forces. Unfortunately, the past shows clearly what happens under the
status quo: nothing.
If we seek prevention, we have to try something new. To date we have not prevented a single genocide in the past 55 years. The Genocide Convention exists for our use. Please let us invoke it.
We will make history—and we perhaps will save a few hundred thousand
lives in Darfur. As important, we will take our first true steps down
the path to being able to experience, rather than just say, “never
Update: The Scotsman has a signed editorial today that is complementary to the above essay. An excerpt:
It has taken me years to realise how much words in
diplomacy do matter. Take the phrases used by the world’s politicians
and power brokers about the situation in Sudan’s Darfur region. Here’s
“The world’s most serious humanitarian crisis”; “horrific”; “a
catastrophe”; “terrible crimes have been committed”; “an epic
humanitarian crisis”; “ethnic cleansing”; “massive violations of
international humanitarian law”; “overwhelming evidence of atrocities”
You get the drift. But the one word not being used is “genocide”,
despite the confident assertion by Andrew Natsios, director of the US
Agency for International Development, that a minimum of 300,000 black
African Darfurians, at best, and more than a million at worst, will die
as a result of the attacks on them by Sudan’s Arab, Islamic
fundamentalist government, its armed forces and Janjaweed militias.
It is now agreed that the slaughter in 1994 in Rwanda of 800,000
Tutsis and moderate Hutus by government militias was genocide. The
masterminds of the Rwanda genocide are being tried for precisely that
crime at an international tribunal in Tanzania. At what point, you
might ask – between 300,000 and 800,000 deaths in Darfur – will
genocide be declared? Who decides? We also know now that the Muslim
oppressors of Darfur have set up precisely the same kind of rape camps
as the Serbs established in Bosnia. Will genocide be declared when
someone can catalogue 20,000 Darfur rapes?
In 1994, as the full horror of what was happening in Rwanda
filtered through to Washington, the State Department was ordered not to
use the “genocide” word: the UN Security Council followed America’s
lead and also avoided using it. The end result was humanitarian aid
instead of effective police action: the international response veered
between indifference and a compassion that was not translated into the
kind of action necessary to stop the killing.
For daily (and sometimes hourly) updates and information on Darfur
and Sudan, as well as background reading, click to
It would be wonderful for John Kerry or John Edwards to make a
statement condemning the genocide in Darfur Sudan, and asking for
strong UN peacekeeping action. This would go far with several
important communities, including African-American Christians,
progressive Jews, and southern and western white missionary-oriented
Christians who have been championing this cause. More important,
it could begin to lay out how a truly pragmatic and moral foreign
policy might work under president Kerry. Sudan is a prime example
of the “gap regions” where future terrorism and other problems
breed–and that many on both sides of the fence see as our principle
security challenge. See the comprehensive daily site following
the genocide in Darfur and Sudan, http://passionofthepresent.org, for