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Barriers to the effective prevention of genocide and crimes against humanity

Genocide is one of the most heinous crimes. The genocide definition varies from one writer to another and this essay will adopt the UN definition. According to the UN convention, crimes or acts are considered genocide if the they are committed “…with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethical, racial or religious group, as such” (Jones, 2008). This essay will seek to explore and discuss; state sovereignty, power politics, political will, and the media on how they inhibit effective prevention of genocide and crimes against humanity.

Five aspects are categorized as genocide (Roth, 2005). They include; killing members of a group, causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of a group, deliberate infliction of a condition on members of a group aiming to cause physical destruction in whole or in part, imposing measures aimed at preventing birth within a group, and forceful transfer of children of a group to another. These guidelines are provided by the genocide convention, which is part of the United Nations (UN). The UN adopted the convention on the prevention and punishment of the crime of genocide in 1948 as general assembly resolution 260.

According to Straus (2009), the genocide convention was formed as a response strategy to the holocaust, which occurred between 1933 and 1945. The holocaust has been defined by Martin (2003), as a state-sponsored, bureaucratic, systematic persecution and murder of 6 million Jews among them 1.5 million Jewish children.

Another case of genocide was in Rwanda after the assassination of president Habyarimana in 1973 (Melvern, 2006). This is one of the genocide cases that has drawn intensive world attention maybe because of the nature it was perpetuated. The Hutu were the perpetuators while the Tutsi where the targets. The “slaughter” of Tutsis started in 1994, April 6 and by July, over 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus had been killed.

Another genocide scenario was in East Timor 1991, where Indonesian troops fired at a peaceful memorial procession (Slim, 2007). More than 271 East Timorese where massacred that day at Santa Cruz cemetery or in hospital. Unlike other genocides, international journalists filmed this particular massacre.

The mandate of preventing genocide and crimes against humanity as well as prosecution and punishment of perpetuator rests with the UN (Totten & William, Eds. 2009).However, they have not effectively succeeded in preventing genocide. Several factors have been identified as responsible for unsuccessful prevention of these cases.

State sovereignty as defined by Mills & Kira, (Eds.) (2003) is the right held by an independent state to try their own people through own governmental and state structures without the intervention of foreign states. In terms of genocide and crime to humanity, sovereignty has affected a number of countries, both victims and the bystanders. From a positive light, sovereignty should be a concept of state responsibility to its citizens (Slim, 2007). In an independent state, the government has the responsibility to safeguard and uphold the rights of every citizen. This has lead to the development of the concept “responsibility to protect”.

Nations that participate in crimes against humanity, war crimes, or genocide are hiding under the sovereignty claim to prevent external involvement by other states. In Sudan for example, the country is using the state sovereignty shield to protect the extradition of Sudanese president, Omar al-Bashir for trial in the ICC (Burr, 2008). Al basher has been extensively mentioned to the in the forefront in the Darfur crisis. The government of al-Bashir has been shown to supply Arab militia (Janjaweed) with weapons to eradicate none Darfurians.

State sovereignty is enshrined in the treaty of Westphalia of 1648 (Kuperman, 2001). It is on this principle that the UN and other international systems operate on. The sovereignty notion stipulated in the 1648 treaty gives absolute sovereignty to a state. However, this has gradually changed over time due to the dynamism of communities. Today, with such cases as genocide and crimes against humanity, state sovereignty is no longer absolute and unchangeable.

The UN has the powers to triumph or erode member state sovereignty (Kuperman, 2001). Triumph: when state interests override collective interests and protective reasonability and erode is the willingness of a state to exchange part of its sovereignty for actual or perceived political or security gains. Examples of movement away from the notion of absolute sovereignty are the 2005 world summit and the universal acceptance of the responsibility to protect (Mann, 2005). A symbol of this move from absolute sovereignty to foreign intervention is the ICC and UNEPS.

Sovereignty and lose of internal control of issues by any state is in relation to United Nations Emergency Peace Services (UNEPS) and the ICC. The UN confirms an intervention and identifies when, the commanding body, and the manner of the intervention. An intervention is deemed necessary when; all other peaceful ways to solve the conflict have failed, if the guilty country is twisting the intervention for political mileage, the government of the day threatens human rights, and the intervention has full authority and right.

The UN system is more like a court setting and it is expected that, in dealing with emerging issues, precedence must be used. Precedence in this case means, when dealing with emerging issues of genocide or crimes to humanity, they have to be solved with reference to any previous cases (Simon, 2007). It is this principle that acts as a scapegoat to rapid and direct involvement of countries in genocide and crimes against humanity matters.

The reasonability to deal with genocide or crimes against humanity matters rests with the UN. This it does through the UNEPS and other intervention strategies for example, through humanitarian aid to citizens, trial, and punishment of the arbiters (Simon, 2007). However, this mandate in the recent past has been thoroughly challenged trough the precedent clause with the claim that the ICC is targeting African countries to fulfill its mandate. This has seen the AU support and decline to hand over Omar Al-Bashir to the court. The most recent case, support of the two ICC inductees from Kenya by the AU, the Kenyan people, and some pockets of the globe.

Sovereignty is a critical thing for every independent state. Every sovereign regime representing the members of the country should be treated with respect and honor. It is the opinion of this essay that sovereignty and its setup in the 1648 treaty is a necessary thing. However, with the understanding that human life, respect of human dignity and rights is paramount, then only amendments can be done to state sovereignty to enhance swift international intervention in genocide or crimes to humanity incidences.

On the other hand, the UN systems put in place to watch over genocide and crimes to humanity maybe flawed. This can be seen from the history of their process and target zones. The primary target zone for the ICC is Africa. Note: it is not Africa alone where crimes against humanity are committed. It is common knowledge that Israel has been and continues to slaughter the Palestine while sitting on their territory (Mann, 2005). How contradicting that, the ICC remains pursuant of cases of communities that have made peace like Kenya, while turning a blind eye towards the never ending middle east case.

According to Mamdani, (2009) political upheavals are a barrier to effective prevention of genocide and crimes against humanity. A political upheaval in this case used to mean an abrupt change in the political community, which is a result of formation of a state or regime through violent conflict, e.g. Israel, redrawing of state boundaries, or power shift in a multi-tribal society e.g. the Rwanda case. In these situations, the new group comes to power and there is completion for power or uncertainty, which has been regarded the primary ingredient to genocide resulting conflicts (Straus, 2008). Therefore, political upheavals provide a perfect opportunity for genocide to happen.

The other aspect of power politics that is a barrier to prevention of genocide and crimes against humanity is political exclusion or political inclusion. For political exclusion to facilitate genocide, it has to be along identifying line: ethnic or racial (Eltringham, 2004). Again, the best example of genocide under exclusion or inclusion of a given ethnoclass is in Rwanda and Darfur. According to Prunier, (2005) for genocide to occur, there has to be superimposition inequalities in a multiethnic society where one ethnoclass rules over a considered-subordinate ethnoclass.

As stipulated in the UN guidelines for the prevention of decide, counties has a mandate to check other countries. However, countries shy away from this mandate they fear the same measures being used against them in case they are on the same situation (Mills & Kira, Eds. 2003). In cases of genocide, a similarity is lives are lost, but the conditions surrounding the crime are always different. Countries like the US have been accused of double standards in dealing with genocide and cases of crimes against humanity. A state can participate in preventing genocide and in cases, it happens to be in the same situation, the same measures become too harsh.

The Security Council is the body charged with decision making for the UN. Disagreements are present in the UN Security Council and they have major contribution to prevention of genocides. Due to various reasons, the members disagree on matters for example, to authorize or not UNEPS to intervene (Eltringham, 2004). The concept of R2P can shift from the absolute aspect of sovereignty. However, the concept of nonintervention remains supreme. For the UN Security Council to affirm an authorization to coercive actions, it requires the consent of the permanent members. However, this does not often happen.

On the other hand, there are instances where the Security Council can consent to intervention but the host government resists the intervention. This was, the efforts to prevent genocide or proliferation of crimes to humanity are thwarted (Prunier, 2005). This scenario is most common is cases where the government of the day supports, has political and/or economic benefits from the crimes. In Sudan for example, the government has resisted any intervention efforts because the government of Khartoum has a hand in Darfur crisis (Burr, 2008). Most government will only allow intervention when there is a third party perpetuating the crimes, for example, militia groups.

Economic self-interests are a barrier to prevention of genocide. As stated by Kiernan, (2007) utilitarian genocide is one of the types of economically motivated genocide. In utilitarian form of genocide, crimes include mass killings, which are perpetuated with the objective of gaining control over economic resources, which are currently in control of the target group. The other type is developmental genocide where a certain groups attack those who stand on their way in exploitation of resources. Economic depression is also responsible for genocide (Brunk, 2008). For example, the German holocaust was triggered by the economic depression of 1920s-30s.

Despite the fact that countries and the globe at large is more away of genocide and such related atrocities, states still lack the political will to enage in preventing events leading to, or happening genocide (Slim, 2007). According to scholars who have undertaken studies in this field, failure of will is in the part of political leaders. Political leaders in this case refer to state leaders, regional leaders and to extension international leaders.

However, the back stops with national and regional leaders. On a critical analysis, it can be stated that political will contributes a small part in lack of prevention of genocide and related crimes. If political will is to be defined as the motivation and the determination to act, then it means it is the result of perceived needs by both local and international leaders. Note; the UN has the power to enforce sanctions to a country perpetuating genocide and crimes to humanity.

One of the world powers and members of the UN Security Council is the US. It is however unfortunate that the US can be regarded as one of the states that has failed in terms of political will to intervene in genocide prevention, in some cases. It is true to say that, the US has mixed response to genocide prevention. This lack of consistent action in preventing genocide is regarded failure of will for the US government. The US government has also not been bold enough in dealing with congressional skeptics or/or sluggish policymakers.

The situation of refugees is also contributory in preventing effective genocide prevention through exposing target persons. Refugees are susceptible to crimes against humanity as well as genocide. With political and economic incapability, refugees are unable to fight, resist, or escape from the perpetuators of genocide or crimes against humanity.  According to Jones, (2008) the German holocaust reached the level of the number of Jews because they (Jews) where first removed their homes into Internally Displaced Camps, where they lived as internal refugees.

Economic and political instability are two factors that prevent the effective prevention of genocides and crimes against humanity. The two factors can occur independently or interdependently. In a community targeted for genocide attacks and they are economic and political instable, the results are likely to be more dare. According to Slim, (2007) political instability affects the community at large but economic instability is more of an individual aspect. In case of a threat to genocide attacks, the economically stable in the society are able to run away.

The media plays a major position in combating human right violation (Melvern, 2006). However, more than once this useful toll has failed and genocides have happened under its watch, if not to contribute in the buildup to genocide or crimes against humanity. The media has in cases where crimes against humanity have been committed participated in proliferation of the situation. Media has prevented effective prevention of genocide by taking sides in situations leading to genocide and presenting them on confrontational ways. Barnett, (2002) states that, this confrontational presentation serve to create physiological attributes that set the situation right for motivated crime perpetuation.

In cases where the media is on the side of the perpetuators, it does not serve its sole purpose of informing the public accordingly. On the other hand, media has been used to propagate the intentions of the perpetrators. In a situation where the media in busy in con ftrontational arguments, it gets inattentive to even realize when crimes against humanity are being perpetuated. An example of media talking sides and helping to perpetuate genocide is in Rwanda (Straus, 2008). The media in this case helped to call the perpetuators to take up arms and served to motivate them within the entire period of the genocide.

The media has also prevented the effective prevention of future genocides by the way it presents past genocide cases. According to Robertson, (2000) media has in some cases devalued victims while giving the perpetuators the benefit if the doubt. This way, the media creates passivity, which serves as a prime setting for the audience to accept and embrace future genocide. The condition is even more dared today with the extensive proliferation of local media that address one ethnic group in a multiethnic society.

In conclusion, several factors have hindered the effective prevention of genocide, either the actions preceding genocide or future genocides. These include state sovereignty, power politics and failure of will, while state sovereignty is a good thing; it has been often abused by states to shun away interventions by international states. However, with the continued modification of the principle of sovereignty, states can lose their sovereignty. Nevertheless, states are not fast about talking intervention steps, as they are shy of the same precedent being used against them.

Power politics is the other barrier, which has largely contributed to the ineffective prevention of genocide and crimes agent humanity. The main aspects of power politics are political upheavals and political exclusion or inclusion. Upheavals cause a shift of political power hence triggering genocide while political exclusion and inclusion plays the same effect when the so considered subordinate ehtnoclass is included in power and the superior excluded.

Political will is the last barrier to effective prevention of genocide. Political will is due to interests vested in the event for example, economic gains or political benefits. Closesly related to this barrier is the case of refugees who are very vulnerable to genocide or crimes against humanity die to their economic or political susceptibility. Media also plays a role in inefficiency of genocide prevention through biased and confrontational presentation. In addition, it bleaches the efforts to prevent future genocide by devaluing victims and giving perpetuators the benefit of the doubt.



Chapter 16: Scott Straus “Genocide and Human Rights” in Michael Goodhart (Ed.) (2009) Human Rights: Politics and Practice, Oxford, Oxford University Press

Chapter 6: Richard Falk “The challenge of genocide and genocidal politics in an era of globalisation” in Tim Dunne & Nicholas Wheeler (Eds.) (1999) Human Rights in Global Politics, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press

Chapter 13: Adam Jones “Genocide and Mass Killing” in Paul Williams (Ed.) (2008) Security Studies: An introduction, London, Routledge

Chapter 8: “Sudan” in Chandra Lekha Sriram, Olga Martin-Ortega & Johanna Herman (2009) War, Conflict and Human Rights, London, Routledge

Shaw, Martin (2003) War and Genocide, Cambridge, Polity Press

Jones, Adam (2006) Genocide: a comprehensive introduction, London, Routledge

Roth, John (2005) Genocide and human rights: a philosophical guide, London, Routledge

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Eltringham, Nigel (2004) Accounting for horror: post-genocide debates in Rwanda, London, Pluto Press

Mamdani, Mahmood (2009) Saviours and Survivors: Darfur, Politics and the War on Terror, London, Verso

Waller, James (2007) Becoming evil: how ordinary people commit genocide and mass murder, Oxford, Oxford University Press

Shaw, Martin (2007) What is Genocide? Cambridge, Polity Press

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Kuperman, Alan (2001) The limits of humanitarian intervention: genocide in Rwanda, Washington DC, Brookings Institute

Totten, Samuel & William Parsons (Eds.) (2009) Century of genocide: critical essays and eyewitness accounts, London, Routledge

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Prunier, Gérard (2005) Darfur: the ambiguous genocide, London, Hurst

Mann, Michael (2005) The dark side of democracy: explaining ethnic cleansing, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press

Barnett, Michael (2002) Eyewitness to a genocide: the United Nations and Rwanda, Ithaca, Cornell University Press Valentino, Benjamin (2004) Final solutions: mass killing and genocide in the twentieth century, Ithaca, Cornell University Press

Simon, Thomas (2007) The laws of genocide: prescriptions for a just world, Oxford, Praeger

Mills, Nicolaus & Kira Brunner (Eds.) (2003) The new killing fields: massacre and the politics of intervention, New York, Basic Books

Straus, Scott (2008) The order of genocide: race, power, and war in Rwanda, Ithaca, Cornell University Press Kiernan, Ben (2002) The Pol Pot regime: race, power, and genocide in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge, 1975-79, New Haven, Yale University Press

Slim, Hugo (2007) Killing civilians: method, madness and morality in war, London, Hurst

Brunk, Darren (2008) “Dissecting Darfur: Anatomy of a Genocide Debate”, International Relations, 22(1)

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