NAIROBI: The reaction to Jimmy Carter’s comments on genocide continues. The latest contributor to the
debate row is the prolific Eric Reeves writing in New Republic. It is not surprising, given his previous writings on the subject, that Professor Reeves goes for the jugular in describing Carter’s genocide denial as “foolish” and plain “wrong”.
So where do we start in unpicking this row? There are after all dozens of different definitions of “genocide” often devised by campaigners keen to include their own pet subject within any chosen formulation. The only place to begin is the legal definition contained in the 1948 UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.
It defines genocide 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 members of the group;
- (c) Deliberately inflicting on the group 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.”
Professor Reeves is perfectly right to point out that documented cases of rape are being used as a weapon of war (I have met some of these women in the Jebel Mara) against the Fur tribe, fulfilling condition d. Bombing campaigns against civilian targets meet condition a, and there are numerous instances of villages razed and cases where b and c have been described.
None of this is controversial. I have seen and heard it for myself in Darfur. But the attempt to use this as evidence of genocide, as Professor Reeves does, is a classic case of begging the question. Meeting one of these five criteria is merely a necessary but not sufficient condition for genocide to have occurred. The key question is whether these acts are committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.
This is the problem. Khartoum’s targeting of civilian populations and its rape of Fur women are war crimes. But they are not the result of a genocidal plan to wipe out an ethnic or racial group. It is part of a strategy to destroy a rebel uprising by wiping out their support. If that means targeting and killing members of particular ethnic groups then that is a byproduct of the main objective – to destroy the rebels – not the motive itself.
Professor Reeves is anxious that we use the term genocide to keep up pressure on Khartoum. And this word alone may well be the reason that Darfur continues to make headlines while the Democratic Republic of Congo and Somalia remain forgotten conflicts. But there is a very real danger that by misusing it we devalue its currency and run the risk of over-egging the evidence against Sudan when the truth alone should be enough to stir the international community into taking action against its atrocities.