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Sudan and Definitions of Genocide

Article two of the Genocide Convention states, “genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethical, racial or religious group as such: (a) Killing 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.” The actions of the Janjaweed militias, with support from Khartoum, clearly fall within these parameters. However, there has been some legal wrangling over what amounts to “intent to destroy, in whole or in part” an ethnic group. ~Power and Interest News Report, January 10, 2005

At least this discussion of the upheavals in the Sudan does not resort to generalities and actually provides some of the existing, technical definition of genocide as understood by the United Nations. What is less clear is how this convention can possibly mean anything–any war between ethnically distinct states would fall under the rubric of genocide, whether or not there was indeed a malevolent overall design to obliterate another ethnicity. Of course, in the wake of the Yugoslav wars the term has been so emptied of meaning and explicitly used as a political tool for the benefit of Western-backed states that its application to other conflicts can only elicit skepticism and derision.

The more total the war, the greater the general devastation, the more certain the conclusion that the victorious side, or at least the side that has killed more of the opposing side, has apparently committed genocide, if we take this definition seriously. (Let us not think now of what this would have meant for U.S. policy in post-war Germany and the roughly eight million civilians who perished thanks to deliberate policy decisions.) This is to reduce the term to a mere symbol of disapproval and strip of its associations with truly gruesome, en masse killings of the kind that the world has witnessed in Armenia, central Europe, the Ukraine, Cambodia and elsewhere. This is all the more reason why the term should be used only in genuinely extreme cases, if it can still be used seriously at all, and not as a cheap tool to instigate major powers to intervene in internal conflicts of other nations.

The U.S. House has already declared the violence in Sudan to be genocide, born partly out of a newfound interventionist hysteria in the GOP majority, yet under this convention’s definition it is rather inescapable that the United States government has been engaged in a policy of genocide against Iraqis for approximately fourteen years. Certainly in sheer numbers more Iraqis have died as a result of deliberate U.S. policies aimed at worsening living conditions in Iraq and in directly attacking that country, and more as a percentage of the total population have died than is the case in Sudan.

The Khartoum government is ugly and brutal, as are so very many governments in Africa, but neither are its affairs our concern nor has it engaged in a policy of genocide, the chattering of congressional halfwits notwithstanding. The alternative those Congressmen have to renouncing their resolution declaring genocide in Sudan is to apply the same standard and the same explosive rhetoric to the very war of aggression they approved. Indeed, the policy which they daily endorse in speech and support with their votes has less justification than the admittedly brutal suppression of internal revolts by Khartoum: the Sudanese government can at least claim some sanction under international law as the legitimate, sovereign power in that state fighting against sedition and secession, while our government has no legal or moral right to support what it has done.

If one were tempted to look at the Sudanese conflicts in the light of much larger, properly American concerns, it is baffling why the United States would be encouraging the break-up of the largest unitary state in Africa (as our government seems to be doing), when its stability would be vital in combating the movement and support of Islamic terrorist groups. Whereas Khartoum rushed to align itself with our government after September 11, so as to avoid any hint of suspicion that it had retained its al-Qaeda associations, a fragmented Sudan suffering from multiple civil wars would deluge the region in cheap weapons and facilitate the even easier undetected movement of unknown numbers of terrorist agents. Instead of being potentially valuable as an ally monitoring Red Sea traffic, the country may instead become a madhouse and precisely the kind of “failed state,” to use the dreary jargon of the One Worlders, that we have been told enabled al-Qaeda to flourish so well in Afghanistan.

However, the Washington line from the Yugoslav wars to Iraq and now to Sudan has not been one of bolstering stable, existing states that might help improve the chances of effectively combating Islamic terrorism but of breaking down those states either actively hostile to Islamists and their allies or those in a position to weaken severely the means of those Islamists to recruit and move in the most remote parts of the Islamic world, where they have been best able to operate unhindered. It is not clear whether this cackhanded confusion of priorities and destruction of potential allies is purely incompetence or something much more sinister–the consistent, deliberate empowerment of an Islamist threat that gives the warfare state a threat with which to frighten the people into unquestioning submission.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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