“Genocide” – Still a Crime w/out a Name

centurys-first-genocide-2

“The aggressor … retaliates by the most frightful cruelties. As his Armies advance, whole districts are being exterminated. Scores of thousands – literally scores of thousands – of executions in cold blood are being perpetrated … there has never been methodical, merciless butchery on such a scale, or approaching such a scale.

And this is but the beginning. Famine and pestilence have yet to follow … We are in the presence of a crime without a name.”

***

On August 24, 1941, Winston Churchill broadcast the atrocities being committed against Jews and Jewish Bolsheviks in Eastern Russia by Nazi forces.  The worst of the Holocaust was still to come, and post-war, name would be invented to describe these crimes. [1] “The crime of … deliberately wiping out whole peoples is not utterly new in the world,” Rafael Lemkin would say in 1945.  “It is so new in the traditions of civilized man that he has no name for it.” Setting out to label these crimes, he formed the word “genocide,” combining words “genes” for race or tribe, and the Latin ending “–cide” for killing.[2]  This simple term and its subsequent use and non-use would eventually be the subject of great debate.  For the interracial courts to prosecute someone for genocide, the charges would have to be clear.  Sometimes, even the most heinous human rights abuses never obtain the label.  Recent situations, such as the crisis in Sudan highlight the frustrations of the word, and how it is used.  In his autobiographical account, “What is the What,” ‘Lost Boy’ Achak Deng witnesses many of the atrocities that the United Nations (UN) considers genocide — yet the crisis still fails to receive the official designation.  The UN and the rest of the world, in its dalliance upon the issue, are cold in their consideration of the separated families, uprooted lives, and merciless, cold blooded death since the beginning of the conflict.

The United Nations would define the term at the “Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.” Adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 9, 1948, the nine articles call genocide “a crime under international law, contrary to the spirit and aims of the United Nations and condemned by the civilized world.”  Article II of the convention names a series of acts that are prosecutable offenses when “committed with intent to destroy … a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, such as:  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.”[3]  The events that Deng witnessed amount to ‘acts of genocide’ and seem fit the definition, but lack the term officially. In his time in south Sudan, he recalls experiences similar to the listed Article II items, in much more descriptive and harrowing language.

When the murahaleen entered his hometown of Marial Bai, Deng recalled, first, the “crack of gunfire.” There were easily two hundred, three hundred or more.”  Thinking the men were there only to steal the cattle, soon the “sky broke open with gunfire.”  The invaders would burn down the church, and kill indiscriminately taking slaves when it suited them.  “Those who ran were shot.  Those women and children who stood still were herded onto the soccer field. A grown man made the mistake of joining this herd, and was shot … He was tied by the feet and dragged by a pair of horses” [4]  Indiscriminate killing would seem to be an act of genocide, if “killing members of the group” is literally interpreted. But here it is not.  Situations like this were not mere isolated incidents, they occurred throughout southern Sudan, and the Dinka people were the common victims to Moslem raiding parties of the north.  Wells were poisoned, with the bodies of family members.  Houses, if not burnt initially, would be burnt in the next invasion, causing further depravity and bodily harm.   Those who managed to run a distance were picked off by long range rifle. As prerequisite of Article II, if the case of bodily harm was dismissed, surely the psychological harm should be noticed–these were acts of terror and extermination.

Deng’s time in the desert with the Lost Boys, also fits genocide criteria on paper.  A forced walk in the desert, surviving the ferocity of African wildlife and limited food resources, for weeks on end, could be argued as “deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.”  To expect children to survive such a march is improbable.[5] Another Article II item, the prevention of births, occurred from the start, with the kidnapping of girls and women into slavery.  With the deaths and capture of young men and women, such as Deng’s childhood friend Moses and future potential mothers like his boyhood crush, Amath, a generation or more … perhaps the entire Dinka existence, is left in limbo. With no women left free to reproduce and populate the tribe, the tribe would in essence, cease to exist.

Lemkin notes “the term does not necessarily signify mass killings although it may mean that. More often it refers to a coordinated plan aimed at destruction of the essential foundations of the life of national groups so that these groups wither and die like plants that have suffered a blight.”[6] Was Deng’s experience not considered coordinated enough to be called genocide?  The definition given by the UN is too vague and problematic to serve these modern unnamed crimes. Is not murder, rape, and enslavement a crime against humanity? Perhaps the term ‘genocide’ has lost its effectiveness, or become a shell of its former meaning.   Could it be that genocide is specific word that only properly defines the events of the Holocaust?  Lemkin concedes that “genocide is too disastrous a phenomenon to be left to fragmentary regulation. There must be an adequate mechanism for international cooperation in the punishment of the offenders.” There needs to be a new way of classifying these atrocities, one that can’t be debated in the midst of crisis and for years afterwards.  “Genocide” still can’t define these “crimes with no name.” A new term, broader in its application and less tangled in bureaucracy, is needed[7]: ‘Genocide’ still doesn’t adequately define these “crimes without a name.”

Works Cited

Eggers, Dave (2006). “What is the What.”  Vintage Books, New York. p. 91-93

Fussell, James T. “A crime without a name.” Prevent Genocide International. http://www.preventgenocide.org/genocide/crimewithoutaname.htm  (accessed April 30, 2009)

Lemkin, Rafael. “Genocide-a modern crime.” Prevent Genocide International. http://www.preventgenocide.org/lemkin/freeworld1945.html  (accessed April 30, 2009)

Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Geneva, Switzerland.  Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.  http://www.unhchr.ch/html/menu3/b/p_genoci.htm  (accessed April 30, 2009)

[1] Fussell, James T. “A crime without a name.” Prevent Genocide International. http://www.preventgenocide.org/genocide/crimewithoutaname.htm  (accessed April 30, 2009)

[2] Lemkin, Rafael. “Genocide-a modern crime.” Prevent Genocide International. http://www.preventgenocide.org/lemkin/freeworld1945.html  (accessed April 30, 2009)

[3] Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Geneva, Switzerland.  Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.  http://www.unhchr.ch/html/menu3/b/p_genoci.htm  (accessed April 30, 2009)

[4] Eggers, Dave (2006). “What is the What.”  Vintage Books, New York. p. 91-93

[5] It is in this author’s opinion, that if the murahaleen had the resources to find and exterminate the Lost Boys, they would have.

[6] Lemkin, Rafael. “Genocide-a modern crime.” Prevent Genocide International. http://www.preventgenocide.org/lemkin/freeworld1945.html  (accessed April 30, 2009)

[7] The author’s suggestion is simply “Human Rights Abuse,” but as with the term ‘genocide,’ even that phrase is tangled in red tape.

Related Post

9 thoughts on ““Genocide” – Still a Crime w/out a Name

  1. Ian

    May I simply say what a comfort to discover an individual who really understands what they are talking about on the web. I can’t believe you aren’t more popular given that you definitely have the gift.

    Reply
  2. Aracelis

    Heya first time here. I found this board and I find It really useful
    it helped me out a lot. I hope to give something back and aid others like you helped me.

    Reply
  3. Agueda

    You actually realize how to bring an issue to light and make it important.
    A lot more people really need to check this out and understand this side of your story.

    Reply

Leave a Reply