The legal definition of genocide |

The legal definition of genocide

The recent slaughter in Darfur, coupled with the popularity of the movie, Hotel Rwanda, and the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz bring into sharp focus the question of genocide. Darfur, of course, is in the western part of Sudan where, over the last two years, at least 70,000 people have been killed and more than 2 million have been dispossessed of their homes. Since February 2003, in the context of a military counter-insurgency campaign against two rebel groups, the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) Sudanese government forces and government-backed Arab ethnic militias known as “Janjaweed” have committed war crimes, crimes against humanity and “ethnic cleansing” in the Darfur region of Sudan. Government forces and militias have systematically targeted civilian communities that share the same ethnicity as the rebel groups (the black, non-Arab Fur, Zaghawa and Masalit people), killing, looting, raping, forcibly displacing and destroying hundreds of villages. Over a million people, driven from their homes, now face death from starvation and disease as the government and Janjaweed militias attempt to prevent humanitarian aid from reaching them. The same forces have destroyed the people of Darfur’s villages and crops, and poisoned their water.The Hotel Rwanda recounts the genocidal terror of the 100 bloody days commencing in April, 1994 in Rwanda when the ethnic Hutu tribesmen engaged in the wholesale slaughter of the ethic Tutsi, ultimately killing an estimated 800,000 Tutsi and politically moderate Hutu before the Tutsi rebels of the Rwandan Patriotic Front regained control. Most of the dead were hacked to death with machetes by the frantic Hutu hordes. Radio Mille Collines, featured prominently in the movie, read the names, addresses and license plate numbers of many Tutsi and moderate Hutus whom the Hutu slated for annihilation and whom were summarily executed.Of course, these two episodes of ethnic slaughter, roughly a decade apart, were not the first of their kind in the 20th and early 21st century. In 1915, the Turks massacred approximately 1 million Armenians. In the 1940s, Nazi Germany exterminated more than 6 million Jews and another 5 million or so Poles, Roma, Communists and other “undesirables”. In Cambodia, in the mid-1970s Pol Pot and the communists Khmer Rouge exterminated roughly 2 million (out of a population of 7 million) ethnic Vietnamese, ethnic Chinese, Muslim Chams, Buddhist monks and “intellectuals” (which translated, literally, to anyone who could read or who wore glasses). In the late 1980s Saddam Hussein gassed and otherwise murdered tens of thousands of Kurds. In early 1990s in Srebrenica, Kosovo and Bosnia, Muslims and Croats were slaughtered wholesale by the Serbs. It is a sad and sordid history of our species.Despite the outrage which is oftentimes expressed, most times, it is little more than politic lip service. Far more times than not, the international community has done little more than offer its collective condemnation and limp-wristed condolences but has, to say the least, dragged its collective heels in offering any meaningful intervention.It historically may not seem so, but there is, in fact, an international law against such things. Known as the Genocide Convention, it took the United States more than 40 years to adopt it.The term “genocide” was first coined by Raphael Lemkin, a survivor of the Holocaust, and derives from the Greek “geno”, meaning “tribe” and the derivative “cide” from the Latin word “caedre” meaning “killing”, thus the “killing of a tribe” of peoples.Genocide is defined as 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 the members of the group;c. Deliberately inflicting on the group the 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. For a party to be found guilty of genocide, it has to: 1) carry out one or more of the aforementioned acts, 2) with the intent to destroy all or part of 3) one of the groups protected. The law does not require the Holocaust-like extermination of an entire group, only acts intended to destroy a substantial part.And that has been the bugaboo; first, intent must be shown and second a “substantial part” must be quantified. Simply, how much is “substantial?”The “Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide” was adopted by the United Nations in 1951. The United States did not ratify the act until 1988.In Nuremberg the Nazi War Crimes tribunal was convened following the Second World War to mete out justice to the perpetrators of genocide. A similar tribunal was not convened again until the Balkans in the 1990s . A standing UN war crimes tribunal was not established at The Hague in Belgium until 1993.While it seems the declamations of genocide are flying earlier in Darfur than in previous genocides, the world seems, yet again, to be largely sitting on the sidelines. Waiting for precisely what, I remain uncertain.Rohn K. Robbins is an attorney licensed before the Bars of Colorado and California who practices in the Vail Valley. He is a member of the Colorado State Bar Association Legal Ethics Committee and is a former adjunct professor of law. Mr. Robbins lectures for Continuing Legal Education for attorneys in the areas of real estate, business law and legal ethics. He may be heard on Wednesday nights at 7:00 p.m. on KZYR radio (97.7 FM) as host of “Community Focus”. Mr. Robbins may be reached at 970/926.4461 or at his e-mail address: Vail, Colorado

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