When are atrocities not considered genocide? UN says intent and number of victims are key factors

cemetery

When are atrocities not considered genocide? UN says intent and number of victims are key factors

National Post

9 February 2015

 

In its recent ruling neither Croatia or Serbia committed genocide, the UN’s highest court showed how high the bar is set to prove genocide. Intent is an important factor, as well as the numbers killed, The Post’s Steven Gelis reports:

What’s the definition of genocide?

The UN’s convention says it must be “committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.” This was not proved in either Serbia or Croatia in the war that led to the breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s, the International Court of Justice said. “[While] there is evidence of crimes by Serbia and Croatia of atrocities that are consistent with genocide, [the judges] are saying that they do not find specific intent to destroy substantial portions of the target groups,” notes Adam Jones, a genocide scholar at the University of British Columbia Okanagan.
So what counts?

In the Serbia/Croatia cases, the court “would have expected to see more systematic, physical killing and corralling and exterminating of populations to more clearly meet the intent requirement,” says Mr. Jones. Adds political scientist David B. MacDonald at the University of Guelph, “It’s not enough to kill people, or move them around and steal their land. You have to be able to prove that [the perpetrators] had this bigger motivation to destroy the group in whole or in part.”

Some clear examples

Intent is unmistakable in cases such as Rwanda, Cambodia and Srebrenica genocide, when Serbian paratroopers killed more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys in the Bosnian War. Canada also considers the Holocaust, Ukrainian famine in 1930s Soviet Russia and the Ottoman empire killings of Armenians as genocide.
What sort of numbers?

In Cambodia, the Khmer Rouge under dictator Pol Pot is estimated to have killed as many as two million people in 1975-79. In Rwanda, up to 800,000, mainly ethnic Tutsis, perished in a matter of 100 days in 1994, killed by ethnic Hutu extremists.

What about Canada?

Some scholars argue Canada has its own history of genocide. They point to residential schools and continuing violence against First Nations’ peoples, especially women. “The residential school system in Canada, and certainly the structural extermination of Native peoples in many other parts of the colonized world, qualifies because of the mortality involved,” says Mr. Jones.

Local pushback

Electronic music group A Tribe Called Red pulled out of performing at the opening festivities for the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg because they felt the museum misrepresented and downplayed “the genocide that was experienced by Indigenous people in Canada by refusing to name it genocide.”

Featured image: The war victims cemetery is seen in Vukovar, Croatia. The United Nations’ top court ruled Feb. 3, 2015 that Serbia and Croatia did not commit genocide against each other’s people during their bloody 1990s wars. Copyright: Associated Press


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