Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Genocide: The International Community’s Response

By Bryan Kotowski
Bryan Kotowski graduated from University at Albany SUNY in 2013 where he majored in Psychology. He was accepted into the “3 plus 3” SUNY Albany and Albany Law pipeline program and is now a third year law student at Albany Law.
During his time in law school he has participated in the Gabrielli Appellate Advocacy Competition where he was a Quarter-Finalist, worked with attorneys at the Department of Homeland Security's Office of Immigration and Custom Enforcement and studied International Business Transactions in Rome, Italy. 
After law school, Bryan is hoping to pursue a position as a JAG Officer in the United States Army, which he hopes will later lead to a career with the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
This essay was prepared for Prof. Bonventre's International Law of War and Crime Seminar.

I. Genocide; Generally

Genocide is defined as “any of the following acts committed with an 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.”

While genocide was originally thought of as a crime against humanity it became it’s own separate offense in 1948 with the adoption of the U.N. Genocide Convention. This Convention not only punishes acts of genocide but those acts associated with genocide, such as the “conspiracy to commit genocide”, as well as establishes individual criminal responsibility and international state responsibility for genocide. The Convention has been “widely acknowledged as representing customary international law.”

II. Historical Examples of Genocide

Even with the adoption of this Convention, “nearly fifty genocides have occurred” since, in places including the “Ukraine, Burundi, Paraguay, [and] Cambodia”, and resulting in the deaths of millions of people. Some of the more recent examples of genocide include the genocide of the Tutsis by the Hutu in Rwanda in 1994, Slobodan Milosevic’s ethnic cleansing of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo in 1999, and the civil war that has been taking place in Sudan, primarily Darfur, since 2003 and has claimed over two million lives.

III. Origins of Genocide

The origins of genocide tend to stem from the tensions that arise among differing social, economic, ethnic, religious, racial or even political groups, which may be caused by mistreatment, discrimination, or scarcity of resources to name a few.

In Darfur, the conflict arose over land disputes between Arab nomads and African farming villages. The predominantly Muslim government of Sudan supported the Arab nomads causing hostilities to arise and for the African farmers to form a rebel group called the Sudanese Liberation Army (SLA). As the situation began to escalate, with military attacks carried out by both sides, the government began coordinating with an Islamic group known as the Janjaweed who began raping and murdering its way through the African villages in Darfur. The Janjaweed’s actions have resulted in the deaths of at least 70,000 civilians and the displacement of 1.85 million people.

Another example is the infamous genocide of the Tutsis that occurred in Rwanda in 1999. Rwanda’s ethnic population was made up of the majority (about 82%) Hutus and the minority (17%) Tutsis. Tension did not arise between the two groups until colonization of the region by the Belgians, in which, the lighter skinned Tutsis were favored by the Belgians for their “pre-colonial standing” and supposed “racial superiority.” The issuing of identity cards between the two groups which classified them as either Hutu or Tutsis as well as the gap between the groups in regards to economic wealth and political power caused tensions to rise between the two groups.

In 1959 the Hutu’s revolted and took power from the Tutsis, backed by the Belgians who, though had originally favored the Tutsis, now backed the majority of the population, which was the Hutus. This uprising caused the deaths of many Tutsis, a large remainder fled Rwanda to form rebel groups and launch attacks from other African countries, which resulted in even more tension and hostility between the two groups.

Eventually, after years of fighting, a delicate truce was formed between the two groups, unfortunately this did little to stem the hatred years of conflict, death, and mistreatment had created between the two groups and the Rwandan genocide was the result. The Rwandan genocide resulted in 800,000 deaths within 100 days, making it the most efficient ethnic cleansing in humanity’s history.

IV. International Intervention

In both Darfur and Rwanda, the international community’s inaction has been highly criticized as a gross mistake and failure on the part of the United Nations as well as world leaders like the United States. In Rwanda, many international agencies refused to acknowledge that what was occurring in Rwanda was in fact genocide until it was already too late.

Additionally, the U.N. peacekeeping force that was deployed to Rwanda was only allowed to “monitor and observe” the situation and in no way intervene to stop the atrocities that were occurring. The commander of the peacekeeping force in Rwanda, Canadian Brigadier-General Romeo Dallaire, was unable to properly handle the situation due to budgetary concerns, which resulted in a gross lack of resources and capabilities as well as the fact that he was given only 2,500 troops rather then the 4,500 he had requested. General Dallaire also sent repeated requests to the U.N. to allow his forces to intervene and seize munitions strongholds that the Hutus were using to slaughter the Tutsis, all of which were denied.

Years later, analysts determined that if General Dallaire had been given the troops he requested as well as the ability to intervene he could have saved around 500,000 Tutsis, roughly half the number that was killed during the 100 day genocide. The situation in Darfur was similar in that, after a year of violence and fighting, only the United States classified the conflict as genocide. It was only after another additional year of death and destruction in Darfur that the U.N. finally stepped in and sent a peacekeeping force of 10,000 soldiers. 

V. Media’s Effect on Intervention

The media plays an integral role in the intervention of global disasters such as the genocide that occurred in Rwanda and the conflict that is still occurring today in Darfur. In fact, experts agree that it was the lack of coverage by the “Western Media” that was one of the leading causes of why it took so long for both the United Nations and world powers like the United States to intervene.

In Rwanda, there was little to no media coverage on the conflict as it was beginning to erupt. Being that there was little news coverage of the events taking place, the American public along with other leading nations were not aware of the atrocities that were being committed and that the United States and other leading countries should intervene. This “lack of coverage,” while detrimental to any chance of intervention for the Rwandan people, was not nearly as detrimental as to the inaccurate framing of the situation, specifically in regards to Rwanda, once the media did take notice of what was going on.

Rwanda was framed as a balanced, even-sided civil war between two “tribes” who had been battling each other since the dawn of time. Hearing this, the genocide in Rwanda quickly became old news and disregarded by the American public as an unending “tribal conflict” in which America had no business of getting involved. Even after news of the mass death and displacement of millions, the media began focusing its stories on the survivors of refugee camps, a much safer and simpler task then reporting on the atrocities happening within Rwanda. Lastly, the depiction of Rwanda as “The Heart of Darkness,” in that this was an African nation tucked deep within the chaos and turmoil that has always plagued Africa, also caused people to turn away from the thought of intervention.

VI. Conclusion

Genocide is one of the most, if not the most, dangerous and heinous crimes committed by man. However, given how large-scale acts of genocide usually are, they can only be committed if the international community stands idly by and does nothing. This includes the media, who have a responsibility to report and inform the people of the world of global atrocities, such as the ones that occurred in Rwanda. Without an accurate understanding of what causes genocide, as well as an accurate portrayal of the conflict and events surrounding a genocide, the international community will fail to intervene and allow genocide to run rampant.