Darfur: is ‘genocide’ label applicable?

Link: Crisis in Darfur: Some fear ‘genocide’ label is doing more harm than good []

This is quite an alarming article in that it touches on something I have been considering for sometime: the use and misuse of the term ‘genocide’.  I will pen a post this week as to exactly how genocide is defined and the harm that can be caused by overusing and misusing the term.  In the meantime, the article above discusses the matter in regards to the situation in Darfur.

The article discusses how the United Nations determined in 2005 that the Sudanese government was not committing genocide.  As I discussed in March the International Criminal Court in The Hague in the Netherlands indicted Sudan's president Omar Hassan al-Bashir on seven counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity but he was not charged with genocide. (ICC prosecutors were appealing against the court ruling though and wanted to expand the charges to include genocide).  The article states that Doctors Without Borders and Human Rights Watch have specfically been reluctant to use the term ‘genocide’.

The relevant issue here is this: does the term ‘genocide’ help or hurt the people of Darfur?  Does it matter if we use this term as opposed to other terms?

“Most agree that it has mattered a lot. When former U. S. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell first described Darfur as a case of genocide in 2004, a $1 billion-a-year international aid effort quickly followed, elevating the crisis above other African conflicts, including those in Somalia and Congo, where the mortality rates in recent years have been higher and the displacement greater” - 

Why does it take a label of ‘genocide’ before we do anything?  If we were able to get action by using less explosive terms, then people wouldn’t be so tempted to use this particular word. 

I don’t have an answer – yet.  But in coming months, I hope to take a deeper look at some of these conflicts in an effort to understand the lack of agreement over whether conflicts such as those in Darfur and Sri Lanka constitute genocide.

The United Nations: Is it relevant?

Link: Praise for Sri Lanka raises questions of how effective UN really is[]

The UN Human Rights Council has praised the Sri Lankan Government over its war against the Tamil Tigers. This is incredible even if you only consider that the Sri Lankan government heavily shelled civilian areas. Naturally, this has caused many people to raise questions about how effective the UN is. The article above raises some very interesting points regarding the members of the UN Human Rights Council and how they seem to allow just about any recognised state to join.

"The Human Rights Council is the replacement for the discredited Human Rights Commission, which once had Libya as a chairman. Yet the new council is little better and has human rights violators such as Cuba, Saudi Arabia, China and Kyrgyzstan as members. They are naturally reluctant to accuse other nations of abusing citizens" -

This is a really valid point. I have pretty much stayed out of the arguments about the UN excepting for my article Gallop Poll Shows Record Disapproval of UN but the question needs to be raised: if there are various legitimate and questionable reasons for the UN simply not being able to fulfil its peacekeeping function, then surely that arm should be dissolved?

The author of the article would disagree, citing the RAND Corporation's findings that two out of three peacekeeping missions were a success. His article concludes that Bush was premature in his opposition to the UN and realised too late that he needed them. In further mitigation, many of the UN's cited failures relate to the Srebrenica and Rwanda situations which occurred in the 90's. Perhaps the most valid way to proceed then would be to judge the UN in terms of their current performance not their past failures. Whatever the case, it seems increasingly obvious that an overhaul of the organisation is needed.

Rwanda: reports of continued intimidation and attacks

Link: A "Silent Genocide" Continues In Rwanda [The Lens]

Photojournalist Phil Carpenter is spending May in Rwanda teaching photojournalism.  His blog The Lens is on the Montreal Gazette news site.  His photography is phenomenal but the story he is reporting is tragic.

Reports are coming through that genocide survivors are being killed if they testify in the ongoing genocide trials or if they are expected to testify.  I don’t know what to say – I’ll be honest and admit that in my naivety, I had no idea such intimidation and persecution was still going on.  I was under the impression that the RPF government had a firm hold on the country and the Tutsis were part of a political majority now and were protected.

To think that these people who went through such pain and suffering are now living in fear of further reprisals…

I would highly recommend reading Phil’s blog The Lens – his photography is superb and his insights are really interesting.

Rwanda: Genocide verdict in Canadian court

Link: Canadian court convicts Rwandan of genocide [AFP]

A Canadian court has convicted Desire Munyaneza of genocide after he was found guilty of seven counts of war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity.  His TRIAL profile states that he played a significant role in the rape and sexual assault of several women and girls during the military campaign and that he distinguished himself by virtue “of his energy and dedication to the policy of massacres, and the efficiency of his operations”.

The trial took over two years to play out and heard testimony from 66 witnesses in four countries.  Well-known witnesses to the trial included Romeo Dallaire, the famous UN official who tried to warn the world of the genocide as well as Alison des Forges who died in February in the Buffalo Air Crash.

Munyaneza is likely to be sentenced to life in prison which I believe carries a maximum sentence of 25 years in Canada.  Under Canadian law, any individual can be charged with genocide if they enter into Canadian territory following their crime:

“In Canada the War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity Act makes it an offence under Canadian law to commit genocide, whether inside or outside Canada. A person may be charged under this law if, at the time of the crime, the perpetrator was a Canadian citizen or was employed by Canada, if the victim was a Canadian citizen or a citizen of a country allied to Canada, if the perpetrator was a citizen of, or employed by, a country that Canada was engaged in armed conflict with or if, at any time after committing the crime, the perpetrator enters Canadian territory” - Wikipedia

Terrorism: Interview with ex-Belmarsh inmate

Link: Reforming the Radicals [TimesOnline]

Rachel North is a blogger who is a survivor of the 7/7 terrorist attacks in London. Her blog is Rachel from North London and she is both an excellent writer and an inspiration.

In this excellent article published a year ago in the Times, she interviews Musa Ahmet who was imprisoned on suspicion of terrorism in Belmarsh prison in South London but later released. He is the brother of the man dubbed “Hate Preacher Atilla the Scum” by the UK media. In the article Musa discusses how he believes that many terrorists are reformed once they spend time in jail and that only 25-30% still harbour terrorist beliefs once inside. The article touches on the fact that youngsters are often lead astray by people who know little about the Islam religion and use it to turn them into radicals. Apparently, Atilla has reformed whilst in prison and asked Rachel to convey his apologies to the English and American public for what he said in the past. He has begun a proper study of the Koran whilst in prison and understands now “that the words of the prophet should not be used to justify violence against innocents”.

Rachel states that her aim is not to condone nor forgive but to understand extremism in order to prevent such atrocities in the future.

Sri Lanka: breaking news - LTTE surrender

Link: After 70,000 dead, Tigers surrender in war-weary Sri Lanka

It appears that the surviving LTTE leaders have declared an end to their campaign to build their own breakaway state. There remains a small area where holdout fighters are still trapped but apparently the leader of the LTTE has indeed been killed.

"In other capitals, and in the office of United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, there were grave criticisms of Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa for a campaign of unprecedented violence that appeared to ignore humanitarian concerns and the Geneva Conventions as the Sri Lankan military bombed and shelled tens of thousands of Tamil civilians whose homes and lives are intermixed with the Tiger forces. There have been at least 7,000 civilian casualties in the north" -

The fierce battles have resulted in about 250,000 refugees, many of whom are wounded. These civilians have been displaced and cannot return home for fear of reprisals from remaining LTTE members. The article states that the LTTE regime was a punitive and strict regime. Once again, the sheer magnitude of the humanitarian cost of this conflict is immense and these people have been victims of both the LTTE regime and the governments programme of shelling and bombing.

Sri Lanka: Fear of mass suicide as LTTE surrender

Link: Fears of mass suicide as Tamil Tigers face final defeat [TimesOnline]

A week ago, Moggy at TPM Cafe warned of this exact possibility:

“It is therefore unsurprising that LTTE members, regardless of their ideology, would prefer a relatively quick death via explosion or cyanide capsule rather than surrender and risk being tortured, raped, starved and/or imprisoned prior to being killed” - Moggy @ TPM Cafe

The Tamil Tigers are a banned organisation in the UK and I’ve found that international news reports often reflect this, focusing on the terrorist nature of LTTE activities rather than the humanitarian crisis.  The above article TimesOnline article has painted quite a grim humanitarian picture though and these are the salient details:

  • The LTTE have offered to lay down their weapons in return for a guarantee of their safety but will consider suicide otherwise.  Until earlier this year, the Tamils had run what was essentially a mini-state in the north of the country.  The significance of this is that if they do opt for suicide, it is entire family units (including wives and children) that will take the cyanide capsules.  The number of possible casualties is about 10,000.  They are willing to surrender to a third-party international force and as part of the agreement there must be a commitment to an political process that will guarantee the political and human rights of the Tamil people.
  • Doctors have reported that due to shelling of the area (which is the size of Hyde Park), there are about 2000 to 3000 unburied corpses and they cannot access the sick and wounded because of continued shelling.  Families have been trapped in bunkers for a week without access to food and water.
  • Aid agencies and journalists have been prevented from entering the region but estimates say that between 30,000 and 80,000 civilians are trapped.

Not only are the civilians being used as human shields, they are also all under suspicion of being in league with the LTTE, as Medico International reports

“More than 30 000 persons have managed to flee the enclave through the front lines into the area controlled by the army. Around half of them have been brought into the city of Vavuniya., where, some heavily injured, they have been interned in prison camps run by the army and allied paramilitaries. They are all under general suspiscion (sic) of being LTTE members and are being subjected to systematic torture, rape and shootings, especially the young men and women” - Medico International

So by all accounts, it seems that we are on the threshold of a loss of between 10,000 and 80,000 lives this weekend. That is a terrifying possibility.  Without urgent international intervention, the cost of human lives is going to be immense.

Zimbabwe: Prisoners starved in Zimbabwe jails

This is unreal. Look at these photos of prisoners starving in Zimbabwean jails.  The documentary to which they refer was aired by the South African national broadcaster SABC on their Special Assignment news programme. 

The video above can be found in its original context at the website.  I wish I could find the video for the full length news piece.  Please comment if you know where I can see the full show.

You will not be surprised to know that Zimbabwean officials slated the footage as false and blamed the expose on the prison warders. [link]

I need a new label for Zimbabwe really.  It is not war or genocide, just gross violations of human rights.  “Zimbabwe” will have to suffice as a label for now.

Sri Lanka: UN genocide expert calls for end to conflict

Link: UN expert on genocide prevention calls for end to conflict []

Link: Still time for Sri Lanka and Tamil Tigers to reconcile says advisor [BruneiNews]

It does not matter which side you are supporting or what you opinion of the LTTE is but a human catastrophe is in the process of happening in Sri Lanka.  UN genocide prevention expert and special advisor to Ban Ki-moon, Francis Deng has called for an immediate end to the conflict and he has specifically made mention of the ethnic nature of the conflict.

There is still time for the Government and the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) to halt their fighting and “pursue a reconciliatory and peaceful path with the ethnic Tamil population,” Francis Deng said in a statement.

“This polarizing conflict is identity-related with ethnicity and religion as deeply divisive factors,” he said. “It will not end with winners and losers and it cannot be ended solely through a military victory that may not be sustainable in the long-run unless legitimate grievances are addressed.”

Mr. Deng underscored that women and girls are particularly vulnerable to “excesses of conflict,” stressing that the Government is legally obligated to give them special protection. He called on authorities to allow the UN and other agencies “full and unfettered access to all civilians and detainees.”

The Special Advisor also called on the LTTE, for its part, to “immediately cease holding human shields and let civilians leave the conflict area,” a shrinking pocket of land on Sri Lanka’s northern coastline where the UN estimates that at least 50,000 people are still trapped - BruneiNews

Also commenting was Walter Kälin, the Secretary-General’s Representative for the Human Rights of Displaced Persons.  He drew attention to the fact that the LTTE is preventing civilians from leaving the area in which they are trapped and setting up military installations around them but that the Sri Lankan government is heaving shelling the areas.  This is resulting in an unacceptably high level of civilian casualties.

Given the Gaza conflict a couple of months ago, why is the world not being more vocal about this?  It is the same action – a government shelling an area they believe to contain military installations but killing civilians instead.

Recommended reading: birthday books

I’m not your average girl, I can tell you.  These are the books I bought with the money I got for my birthday:


Into the Quick of Life: The Rwandan Genocide - The Survivors Speak
Author: Jean Hatzfeld

I have read this book before but wanted to own my own copy of it. I discussed this book in detail here. This is a heartbreaking book where survivors of the 1994 genocide discuss their experiences and how they survived the attacks.
A Time for Machetes: The Rwandan Genocide - The Killers Speak
Author: Jean Hatzfeld

The second book from the above author but his time from the killers' perspectives. This is going to be a hard book to read and is at the bottom of the pile at the moment.  That is not to say that I don’t want to read it, it is just that I am going to read the other books first.
The Strategy Of Antelopes: Rwanda After the Genocide
Author: Jean Hatzfeld

This is the final book in the set and I have been waiting for some time for this book to finally be released. The author has gone back into Rwanda and interviewed both hutus and tutsis again to discuss whether reconiliation and forgiveness is possible.


Dinner with Mugabe: The Untold Story of a Freedom Fighter Who Became a Tyrant
Author: Heidi Holland

I saw this book in South Africa in April and I am glad to finally have my hands on it. The book has received good reviews on Amazon and is said to be a fair attempt to understand Mugabe. In the words of the author: "Discovering that Robert Mugabe is a real person making hideous decisions is not to let him off the hook but is to observe how and why he lost his way" (Dinner with Mugabe, page xiv).


The Girl in the Picture: The Remarkable Story of Vietnam's Most Famous Casualty
Author: Denise Chong

This book has also received good reviews at Amazon and I am hoping it will give me some beginners insight into the Vietnam war; this is a topic I have been interested in my whole life but know relatively little about. It is precisely for reasons like this that I started this blog.


Survival in the Killing Fields
Author: Haing S. Ngor

It appears that with the recent genocide trials starting in Cambodia, this book has been brought back into print again which is great news because I had been struggling to get a copy of it before. The Khmer Institute has done an in-depth analysis of the inaccuracies in another book I had reviewed on Cambodia, First They Killed My Father.  This book is on their list of recommended books to read and thus I am looking forward to reading it.

Rwanda: Landmark genocide case to proceed in the US and UK to change law regarding genocide

Link: Judge rules 1st US genocide case should proceed [Associated Press]

This is really interesting.  A judge in the US has ruled that the case against a Rwandan immigrant can proceed.  This means that it will be the first time that a US court will hear evidence in a criminal prosecution involving proof of genocide.  The judge has rejected a Justice Department request for more time in the preparation of the trial.

It is interesting but this is not actually a genocide trial. Lazare Kobagaya is charged with obtaining US citizenship unlawfully and fraud. I am guessing that the outcome of the trial is important because if Kobagaya is not a US citizen then standard extradition laws do not apply and he can be sent back to Rwanda or the ICTR tribunal in Tanzania for trial. The ICTR has been ordered to wrap up its trials now though and so the likely destination will be Rwanda.

Link: High Court halts extradition of four men wanted for Rwanda genocide [Times Online]

It is especially significant in light of recent occurrences in the UK. Last month, four Rwandans were successful in their High Court application to block their extradition to Rwanda on genocide charges. The High Court ruled in favour of the applicants due to concerns that they might not receive a fair trial in Rwanda.

While Rwanda abolished the death penalty in August 2007, conditions in Rwandan jails are overcrowded and substandard and there are widespread concerns that the government is not impartial enough to grant genocide perpetrators fair trials. The international community and the UN is still very much involved in the whole process of bringing these people to justice I do hold hopes for the possibility of fair trials in Rwanda in future. 

Nevertheless, depending on the outcome of the case in the US (in Kansas), people may be more or less inclined in future to extradite alleged perpetrators to Rwanda.

Link: Jack Straw: Rwandan genocide suspect could face UK trial [Gazette News]

In the meantime, UK Justice Secretary Jack Straw is considering changing UK law to make genocide an extra-territorial offence.  This is in reaction to the successful High Court application mentioned above.  I’m going to have to do much more research on that term but (for example) the Criminal Jurisdiction Act 1975 sought to try offences relating to Northern Ireland as offences if they “would, if taking place in Northern Ireland, constitute an offence”.  Hence, if successful, this amendment to the law would try genocide cases on the basis that the acts would, if they took place in the UK, have constituted an offence. 

Cambodia: John Pilger’s The Silent Death

This is the video of John Pilger’s Cambodia: The Silent Death.  Filmed in 1979, this is a harrowing and shocking investigation into conditions in Cambodia immediately following the defeat of the Khmer Rouge and the lack of aid and international involvement.

The video above is the full 52 minute film but you can also access the film in smaller but better quality instalments on YouTube.