8 January 2009
The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, adopted in response to the Holocaust in 1948 to prevent state-driven campaigns of mass-murder, has one rather obvious problem: It doesnt work. Drastic reforms of the way the international community responds to genocide and ethnic cleansing should be made, with depoliticizing the process as the first priority.
Since its adoption, the Convention has not prevented a single instance of genocide. Atrocities in Cambodia, East Timor, Iraq, Rwanda, Bosnia and most recently, Sudan, all took place with wide coverage by the world media and often with the connivance of international institutions. ()
The international communitys response to genocidal campaigns and the application of genocide law, including the International Criminal Court, which indicted Sudanese President Omar el Bashir, is reactive, not proactive. The international community has established mechanisms for prosecuting the perpetrators of genocide post factum, but not a mechanism for intervening in genocide when it happens.
Although individual statesmen may be important as the preachers of hatred and inciters of mass murder, it is only when such destructive ideologies are implemented by state structures that genocide takes place. Since genocide is likely only with state support, it can be stopped only by other states. ()
What is needed is a major paradigm shift in the way we think about sovereignty and the responsibility of the international community to intervene in genocide as it happens. As long as the decisions on humanitarian interventions are made collectively by governments that follow their own narrow interests, there are bound to be disagreements and political deadlocks that often come at an appalling human cost.
We have seen that swift decisions in response to genocide are nearly impossible through traditional diplomacy, while action through international courts and issuing injunctions against political leaders take too much time.
Ideally, to avoid political deadlocks, decisions on interventions should be depoliticized. Clear criteria for humanitarian interventions should established, with the final decision being made by an independent body.() What is needed is an independent body under UN auspices with powers to authorize the use of force as a measure of last resort to stop genocide. The UN already has examples of such independent bodies. ()
Another recent move to put the onus of eradicating genocide on the international community is the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) approach, established by the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty. R2P calls for the transfer of the responsibility to protect to the international community in case a state is unwilling or unable to stop or prevent genocide or other massive human rights violations. Although R2P provides clear guidelines for determining when intervention by external actors must be deemed necessary, it falls short of calling for an independent body that could determine when the use of force is a moral imperative and leaves the final decision up to the Security Council.
The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide has not prevented a single instance of genocide in its six decades of existence. If anyone is found guilty of genocide in Darfur after the conflict, either by prosecutions through the International Criminal Court or in an ad hoc international tribunal, it will only confirm this perception.
The international community must be proactive rather than reactive in responding to genocide and crimes against humanity. Sadly, it has yet to develop an effective legal mechanism for doing so.