24 February 2005

Institutional Dotage (4) (Second Update)

It seems I spoke too soon in concluding that the United Nations now, belatedly, agrees with former Secretary of State Colin Powell's assessment of the mass ethnic killings in Darfur as a genocide; it seems belated is just not late enough when it comes to the U.N. As Professor Kenneth Anderson points out in his Law of War and Just War Theory Blog, the U.N. has concluded that the Darfur situation does not legally constitute genocide; their conclusion rests on their finding that the killings in Sudan, while extensive and ethnically-based, were not carried-out with the requisite intent to destroy an ethnic group in whole or in part.

As Professor Anderson notes, the international community has, since the 1990s, consistently relaxed this legal definition to fit situations like those in Bosnia and Guatemala; in both of these instances, the United Nations, reflecting the general consensus of the international community, made findings of genocide despite relatively weak evidence of requisite intent on the perpetrators' parts. This trend has been accepted by some in the academic community, redefining the crime of genocide without particular reference to the specific requisite intent element which, in Anderson's words, "turns genocide into any mass murder of an identifiable group of people." So what's happened now to reverse this trend despite the horrific evidence from Darfur? Anderson concludes:
Along comes Darfur, however, in the context of reflexive anti-Americanism on the part of the so-called international community - if the US is for it, we must be against! - combined with the real politik, which will increasingly rear an ugly head, of commercial interests of China and Russia. And all of a sudden, somehow, mysteriously, the great and good of the international community suddenly rediscover a high threshold of specific intent for genocide. Mind, I was never in favor of lowering it. But if you do lower it for Bosnia, Guatemala, and elsewhere, then you have an obligation not to arbitrarily raise it again when you take up Darfur.
Thus it was that in his recent essay in The Wall Street Journal Secretary General Kofi Annan spoke only in passing of "war criminals" who perpetrated "the abominable crimes in Darfur". Abominable, but not genocidal; the nuance is critical for the modern United Nations, but I suspect that it's lost on the survivors in Darfur.

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