What is genocide? Past and present atrocities
Remarkably, six genocides have major anniversaries in the month of April - a tragic testament to the international community's inexcusable failure to stop inhuman and barbarous acts.This April, we - survivors of genocide and mass atrocities, their descendents, and anti-genocide advocates - will honor those who were lost and those who survived. And we will urge immediate action to stop the ongoing Darfur genocide. Our collective voices will remind the international community to make its commitment to mass atrocity prevention absolute. Until we do, we are destined to repeat the most shameful chapters in human history.
--from the Pledge to Observe at GenocidePreventionMonth.org
What is genocide?
The convention adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948 defines genocide as follows:
In the present Convention, genocide means 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.
--Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (CPPCG), Article 2
Six Genocide Anniversaries in April
Bosnia (April 6), Sarajevo. Hosted by the Society for Threatened People, the Youth Initiative for Human Rights, and the Mothers of Srebrenica.
Rwanda (April 7, for 100 days), Kigali and throughout Rwanda. Hosted by the government of Rwanda and IBUKA, the coalition of survivor groups in Rwanda. Events also in NY and DC.
Cambodia (April 17), Phnom Penh. Hosted by civil society groups, led by the Center for Social Development. Event also in DC.
Darfur (April19), Washington, DC. Hosted by the Save Darfur Coalition.
Yom HaShoah, the Holocaust (April 21), Yad Vashem in Israel, the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in DC and synagogues and Holocaust memorial sites around the world.
Armenia (April 24), Yerevan. Hosted by the Armenian Genocide Museum & Institute, located in the Tsitsernakaberd Park. Events also in New York, Los Angeles and Washington, DC.
GI-NET's Eight Current Areas of Concern
Genocide Intervention Network highlights eight current areas of concern:
Darfur - Since 2003, the most notorious genocide of the twenty-first century has devastated millions of non-combatant civilians in Darfur. Sudan continues to send its troops and Janjaweed proxy militias to systematically destroy the livelihoods of Darfurians by bombing and burning villages, looting economic resources, and murdering, raping, and torturing non-combatant civilians. Rebels in Darfur are also complicit in the recruitment of child soldiers and the commission of other acts of violence against civilians. At present (Jan. 2009) Darfur is experiencing the most intense fighting seen in the last year. ... GI-NET's compilation of UN and other reports from Darfur lead to three strong conclusions: 1. Direct violence is still occurring, with over 1,200 reported fatalities between Jan. and Sep. 2008. 2. The Sudanese government and Janjaweed militia are responsible for 79% of civilian deaths and 88% of the people they kill are civilians. Coordinated aerial and ground attacks continued in 2008. 3. Civilians account for between 65 and 75% of all fatalities. 70% of civilians die in what appear to be one-sided attacks. (more...)
Myanmar - Civilians remain at risk of violence in Burma's eastern Karen, Karenni, Shan and Mon states and Tenasserim division. Residents of these states, as well as ethnic minority areas in the western states of Chin and Arakan are victims of summary execution, severe torture and rape as well as forced labor, extortion and displacement due to the ongoing Burmese military offensive. The primary driver of violence is the government, due to its continued counter-insurgency campaign against ethnic minority rebels, particularly its 'four-cuts strategy,' an attempt to cut off food, funds, intelligence and recruits to the rebels. Once it gains control of an area, the military uses forced labor to build bases from which they attack and burn surrounding villages as well as mining the razed areas to discourage returns. Areas outside of government control are designated as 'black zones', where soldiers are able to shoot any person on sight. Government troops are also known to use rape against ethnic minority women as part of a campaign of "Burmanization," through forced pregnancy. (more...)
Somalia - Since January 2007, a resurgence of violence in Somalia has killed thousands and displaced more than one million innocent, non-combatant civilians. Somali insurgents, the transitional government's armed forces, and Ethiopian troops have devastated Mogadishu and its surrounding areas with indiscriminate bombings and targeting of Somali civilians. The United Nations called the current situation in Somalia the "world's worst humanitarian disaster" in December 2007, a title previously held by the conflict in Darfur. In the early part of 2008, Amnesty International reported that the killing of civilians in Somalia has become routine. (more...)
Sri Lanka - The civil war between the Sri Lankan government and the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) continues. The war, which reignited in early 2006, took on a new character in 2008 as government forces captured the LTTE 'capital' of Kilinochchi. With heavy fighting between the Sri Lankan army and LTTE in the north of the country, violence against civilians has also increased. Civilians are subject to stray and indiscriminate bombing, shelling, and gunfire during battles between the LTTE and the government. Civilians have been "disappeared" and killed, sometimes as a public spectacle, presumably out of suspected links with the LTTE. Government forces and proxies such as the Karuna group (a splinter of the LTTE) have been granted full immunity for such crimes, which have not been investigated and have not led to convictions of those responsible. The LTTE is also responsible for violence against civilians. They have, continued and increased the use of suicide bombings throughout the country, targeting transportation facilities and political figures. The Tigers are also responsible for the widespread forced recruitment of child soldiers. (more...)
Chad - Throughout 2008, civilians along Chad's eastern border continued to fall victim to violence committed by the Chadian military, Chadian rebel groups, Sudanese militia and bandits. ... The situation in eastern Chad is a combination of anti-government rebellion, a proxy war between Chad and Sudan, massive displacement due to the Darfur conflict and the inability of the government to effectively provide security for its residents in the east. This combination of factors have helped to create a state of insecurity in eastern Chad that has put civilians at risk of summary execution, forced displacement, rape and the systematic destruction of livelihoods through looting and the burning of villages. Security in the region noticibly deteriorated in 2008, evidenced by the 258% increased in attacks on humanitarians in the region and Chadian children continue to be recruited into militia groups in the region. (more...)
Central African Republic - Since mid-2005, more than 10,000 homes were burned and nearly 300,000 people have fled their homes in terror due to the increasing violence in the Central African Republic. Conflict between rebel groups from the marginalized north and the central government caused a widespread increase in the levels of banditry, looting, and widespread human rights violations. In response to rebel movements, the government of the Central African Republic launched a series of indiscriminate counterinsurgency offensives, terrorizing the civilian population of the country. (more...)
Democratic Republic of Congo - Civilians in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo remain victims of mass killings, severe torture and widespread rape at the hands of numerous armed groups operating in the provinces of North Kivu, South Kivu and Oreintale. Over 1.5 million people are displaced throughout the country, with over one million of these in North Kivu alone. 250,000 of these have been displaced since August of 2008. ... All armed groups in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo have committed widespread mass atrocities against civilians, including rape, torture, forced displacement, summary execution and murder. There is substantial evidence that indicates violence is targeted against civilians on the basis of ethnic identity. (more...)
Iraq - Even though security improved in 2008, the war in Iraq continues with atrocities committed against civilians by members of sectarian militias, Al Qaeda in Iraq, criminal gangs and Iraqi government forces. ... As 2009 begins, residents of Iraq remain at risk of bombings (including IED detonations, suicide bombings and 'sticky bombs'), summary executions, ethnic intimidation including 'soft' ethnic cleansing* and torture. Civilians are also affected by the tactics of Coalition forces, falling victim to the use of overwhelming force and misidentification during counterinsurgency operations. They are targeted due to their ethnic identification, religious identity, residence in mixed ethno-sectarian communities, political affiliation, perceived cooperation with coalition forces and status as non-combatants. (more...)
These areas of concern are sites of potential genocide. However, the term "genocide" is notoriously controversial. Often it can only be applied with confidence after the fact. Therefore, caution should be exercised in public statements. In controversial contexts the term "atrocities" may be preferred. This is in no way reduces or deflates the seriousness of the crimes being committed.
image: Welcome to Rwanda, by The Dilly Lama