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January 25, 2005

Does the Label Really Matter?

The developed world and the UN have a tendency to do a little dance around the word "genocide." The reason, of course, is that if everyone agrees that genocide is taking place then someone has to do something. Doing nothing tends to be much safer than doing something.

While the UN has a definition of what constitutes genocide, it rarely applies the label. Rwanda earned the term, for instance, after 800,000 people were killed in a matter of weeks, but in the Sudan people are still ducking the obvious: at some point it doesn't matter much whether it's an "official" genocide or just mass murder on a giant, ethnically-fueled scale.

Human rights campaigners accuse Sudan's pro-government Arab militia of carrying out genocide against black African residents of the Darfur region.

The militia groups are accused of forcing some one million people from their homes and killing up to 50,000.

Many thousands more are at risk of starving due to a shortage of food in the camps where they have fled.

Without asserting that there is an easy solution to the situation where everyone can go home and sing kumbaya in a haze of brotherhood and happiness, I can say, with no self-doubt, that the UN was created specifically to handle situations like this. Kofi Anan, though, refuses to call this genocide precisely because it would obligate the UN to act.

The UN has no problem floating the idea of worldwide wealth re-distribution through taxing member states like the United States, but it can't manage to even live up to its own Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. Or, I suppose, if the organization continues to either dodge giving a title of genocide to racial, religious, and ethnic murder on massive scale, it isn't really failing in it's duties in a legalistic sense.

It also helps tremendously to make sweeping declarations after a good racial cleansing has already taken place. Maybe hold a few trials, point the finger in blame, and make a ton of noise about how this will never, ever happen again. Of course, it will happen again and it will be handled just as ineptly by an organization too frightened of serious action to be useful to the world.

Just ask the 800,000 that died in Rwanda. Then turn an eye to those million displaced people in Sudan who are facing starvation, disease, and the oppression of the vicious militia groups; if the UN doesn't exist to take decisive action in a situation like this, then what does it exist for?

I'm in agreement with Senators Corzine and Brownback: the United States has an obligation to send clear economic and diplomatic signals to the government of Sudan. And if those signals aren't met with and immediate, positive response from Khartoum, and if the UN continues to ignore its obligations, then military action must be considered.

The United States is not obligated to act against every petty dictator and tyrant in the world, but does have the moral obligation to act in the most egregious situations. Stopping the slow murder of a million refugees seems like a pretty good cause to me.

Posted by zombyboy at January 25, 2005 01:21 PM

I couldn't agree more, but I find it difficult to even comment on what could be done as I hear the stories about our government now needing another $80 billion to continue its policy in Iraq. And then thers's the outpouring of financial assistance and aide for the tsuanmi disaster, so it's obviously within every nation's ability to do something about the Sudan, but you're right in saying that someone must take the lead. You're also right in naming the UN as the most likely organization to assume that position. However, it's sad and shameful that the UN is not unlike any corrupt government or corporation in taking care of and protecting its elected/ruling members first.

Posted by: Don O at January 25, 2005 09:31 PM
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