Genocide: A crime against humanity

Millions have died in unchecked crimes around the world

2004-11-01 02:47:07
The London Free Press

Several thousand people died Sept. 11, 2001, in terrorist attacks on
the United States that instantly became global news. Shocking as it
was, that day of horror pales in comparison to what was then -- and is
now -- occurring regularly, occasionally beyond the scope of the
media's eye. It's somethingthat has come to be known as genocide.

Since the beginnings of recorded history, entire peoples have been
wiped into oblivion in a concerted effort at ethnic, religious or
political cleansing. Millions upon millions have perished in the 20th
century alone. Yet the international community has often been slow to
react -- sometimes not reacting at all -- and the atrocities persist.

Just as the Sept. 11 attacks gave rise to a new and now globally
recognized term, 9/11, the term genocide is relatively is relatively
recent, formulated by a Polish expert in international law, Raphael
Lemkin, in 1944 during the Holocaust perpetrated by Nazi
Germany. Derived from Greek and Latin roots, the word means the
eradication of a race. The United Nations has since expandedthe
definition to include the destruction of any national, ethnic, racial
or religious group.

The most extreme example in modern times, if only in terms of sheer
numbers, was the Holocaust, in which six million Jews were gassed,
shot, worked to death as slave labourers or subjected to inhumane
surgical and other so-called medical experimentation, often
fatal. Tens of thousands of Roma -- or Gypsies -- as well as
homosexuals and other "undesirables" were also victimized.

Most recently and still ongoing is the carnage in Darfur, the
westernmost region of the African country Sudan. An estimated one
million blacks have been uprooted from their land, whole masses raped
and massacred, their villages razed and their crops and livestock
plundered. As many as 200,000 have sought refuge in neighbouring Chad,
itself pressed for resources; many more Sudanese face death by
starvation or disease.

The Darfur crisis did not develop overnight. In a country impoverished
and drought-stricken, Arab herdsmen from the north moved into the
western region to reap what they could from the meagre natural
resources of Darfur -- water and scrubby grasslands. In the face of
uprisings from the desperate locals, mounted Arab militias known as
Janjaweed moved in to conduct a campaign of slaughter and forced
relocation, the latter a virtual death sentence for many.

Humanitarian groups such as Medecins sans frontieres (Doctors Without
Borders), the United Nations children's organization UNICEF and some
western governments have said the Sudanese government supports the
Janjaweed. The government denies it. The Bush administration in
Washington has, as of last month, declared the Darfur situation a

Again in recent memory is the politically charged genocide in Rwanda,
also in Africa, in which opposing Hutu and minority Tutsi peoples
clashed at the cost of an estimated 500,000 lives, with many more
displaced. Most of those killed were Tutsis. The year was 1994; the
initial carnage occurred over mere months and then continued. It
wasn't until 1996 that a Canadian-led international force moved in to
try to stem the bloody unrest.

This August, in a small-scale mirror image of the Rwandan infamy, 200
Tutsi men, women and children were shot or hacked to death in a UN
refugee camp in neighbouring Burundi. Hutu rebels justified the action
as a weeding-out of the opposing Burundi army and Congolese militia.

The grim reality of genocide has been most apparent since the advent
of modern media technology, which brings the horrors of the Third
World into western homes nightly. World leaders tune in to the same
thing. So why does it continue?

Politics and semantics are two factors. When the United Nations was
formed with scores of countries in 1945 after the horrors of the
Second World War,the multinational grouping combined diverse mind-sets
in the quest for peace, security and international co-operation. The
UN did adopt a covenant on genocide, but the term itself became a
focus of debate. Should, for instance, the extermination of a
political group be counted as genocide? Some UN members argued against

Then there was the matter of sovereignty. One state's right to govern
within its borders became -- and remains -- an issue. As recently as
August, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, on the question of
military intervention into the Darfur crisis, said: "This is not a
simple military solution. This is a matter for the Sudanese government
to handle."

Political solutions take time, but time is a luxury the victims of
mass oppression can't afford.


The stain on humanity that has come to be known as genocide has a long
history. Here are a few events from the last 100 years that have been
labelled genocides:

Ottoman Empire (1915)

More than one million Christian Armenians were forced from their homes
into the Syrian desert by the Muslim government of the then-Ottoman
empire, along the way to face slaughter and starvation. Decades later,
Third Reich dictator Adolf Hitler is said to have been inspired by the
events. He was quoted as saying: "Who, after all, speaks today of the
annihilation of the Armenians?"

Russian Revolution (1917-21)

Amid political upheaval that saw the fall of the czarist regime and
the rise of communism, organized mobs waged pogroms against Jewish
communities at the cost of more than 60,000 lives.

Stalinist Soviet Union (1931-33)

Under the banner of communism, lands and crops of prosperous Ukrainian
farmers were seized. Up to 10 million in Ukraine were driven out to
starve to death.

Nazi Germany (1939-45)

Hitler's "Final Solution" in the quest for a pure Aryan nation
accounted for the deaths of six million Jews and tens of thousands of
other "undesirables." Many were gassed and then incinerated in death
camp furnaces.

Cambodia (1975-79)

The Khmer Rouge Communist party was responsible for the deaths of more
than 1.5 million Cambodians through execution, slave labour and
starvation. The country recently agreed to a UN-supported plan to
bring surviving leaders to trial.

Bosnia (1992-95)

Attempts by Croatia, Slovenia, Macedonia and Bosnia-Herzegovina to
gain independence from Yugoslavia brought the wrath of the Serbian
government, leading to widespread exterminations. About 18,000 victims
have been found in mass graves. Former Serb president Slobodan
Milosevic is before an international war-crimes tribunal on charges
including genocide. Other military aides have been indicted.

Rwanda (1994)

About 500,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were slaughtered by Hutu
extremists in political strife. More Tutsis were massacred this summer
in a UN refugee camp in neighbouring Burundi.

Sudan (current)

An estimated 300,000 people will die by year's end as residents of
western Darfur region are forced from their lands. Many have been
slaughtered; manymore face starvation and disease. The Arab-led
central government has been blamed for supporting the genocide.