Genocide in Our Time: Can It Ever Be Stopped?

When the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. was dedicated in 1993, hundreds of attendees, including several heads of governments solemnly vowed that “Never Again” would the world stand idly by while another genocide took place. Sadly, events since that dedication, including several major developments in recent days have underscored the tragic reality that there continues to be genocide in our time. Indeed, in 1994, in Rwanda, Hutu fanatics, using machetes, murdered over 800,000 of their Tutsi countrymen in just 100 days, while the blue-helmeted United Nations “peacekeepers” stood idly by. The mass murder was so vast and so brutal that the United Nations for the first time since the Genocide Convention was drafted after the end of World War II and the Holocaust, formally declared the horrific event a “genocide.” President Bill Clinton would later apologize for not intervening to stop the genocide.

President George W. Bush, after reviewing a written report on the Rwanda genocide, wrote on the margins of the document, “Not on my watch” as a vow that he would not sit idly by if a similar event took place during his presidency. Of course, despite the efforts by President Bush, the State Department and our delegates to the United Nations to pressure Sudan through sanctions and other pressures, another genocide has been unfolding in the Darfur region of western Sudan. To date, an estimated 300,000 people have been murdered by government-backed Janjaweed marauders and more than 2.5 million have been driven from their homes.

The prohibition against genocide is codified in the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, which entered into force among the members of the United Nations in 1951. Today, more than 130 nations, including the United States, are parties to it. The International Criminal Court (ICC)at The Hague has jurisdiction to try perpetrators of genocide, and in 2005, the Security Council referred the situation in Darfur, Sudan to the ICC prosecutor.

In recent days, significant developments regarding the genocides in both Sudan and Bosnia have taken place: Luis Moreno-Ocampo, chief prosecutor of the ICC, has decided to seek a formal indictment of Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir for the genocide in Darfur. This marks the first time that the ICC has gone after a sitting head of state. Serbia’s Slobodan Milosevic and Liberia’s Charles Taylor were both presidents when first charged, but were put on trial by other tribunals.

Within days of the ICC’s decision to go after Bashir, Radovan Karadzic, the former Bosnian Serb leader, was finally arrested in Belgrade, where he had been living in disguise, and was extradited to the ICC. Karadzic is accused of authorizing mass killings in Sarajevo, the Bosnian capital during a siege in 1992-1995. He is also accused of masterminding the massacre of nearly 8,000 Muslim men and boys at Srebrenica, in eastern Bosnia, in 1995. He has since been transferred to The Hague to face the formal charges.

Incredibly, the charges against both Bashir and Karadzik were greeted in some instances by rallies in support of the accused perpetrators of crimes against humanity. In Belgrade, the ultra-nationalist Radical Party staged a mass demonstration in support of Karadzik, whom they consider a national hero. Serbia’s pro-Western President Boris Tadic, who seeks Serbian membership in the European Union, has received death threats since his decision to arrest and extradite Karadzic. Meanwhile, from Khartoum, a New York Times story by Lydia Polgreen and Jeffrey Gettleman reports that Sudanese President Bashir has been accused by the prosecutor of the ICC of genocide and “vilified the world over as an incorrigible mass murderer bent on slaughtering his own people in Darfur, (but) inside Sudan, his grip on power seems, for the moment, to be surer than ever.” They go on to report, “In the past few days, one sworn political enemy after another has closed ranks behind him.”

We applaud the ICC, which was created to be an independent entity to oppose genocidal actions and related crimes, for its decisive actions against both Karadzik and Bashir. As to Bashir, it is depressing that his countrymen are rallying to his side, and he is even being defended by some Western columnists as the “devil we know” who will keep Sudan intact. Under Bashir’s watch, millions of people have been killed in both the north-south civil war and in the unfolding genocide in Darfur. Bashir also can count on the Russian and Chinese ambassadors to the United Nations to veto any effective Security Council resolution which could stop the genocide. We hope that eventually the international community will see to it that Bashir is arrested and extradited to the ICC in The Hague to face justice.