Commentary | Hyde Park: When justice is not enough

What would Raphael Lemkin, the audacious author of the 1951 Genocide Convention and the man who coined the word “genocide,” think of Sudanese president Omar Al-Bashir’s recent decision to expel 13 aid organizations from Darfur? Lemkin, a Polish refugee who lost both of his parents in the Holocaust, struggled for over 20 years to convince a fledging United Nations to acknowledge genocide as a uniquely heinous crime.

Interestingly enough, Lemkin was indignant at the easy passage of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the same UN bodies he was lobbying, thinking that the document would infringe on the unique nature of genocide. He accurately predicted that people would conflate the violation of human rights with genocidal acts, and take inadequate gestures to address violence aimed at both the destruction of a people and their identity.

It is both incomprehensible and dismal that over the past century, the global community has not made progress toward identifying, preventing, or halting genocidal killing. Diplomatic leadership has spent far too much time attempting to semantically label a conflict as genocide and not enough examining the reality of the situation or looking to solve it. Lemkin’s devotion to the letter of international law in qualifying genocide as a transnational crime akin to human trafficking has been misappropriated in the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) indictment of Al-Bashir for genocide and crimes against humanity. This is the first time an arrest warrant has been issued for a current head of state. The ICC’s intention to end a culture of political impunity is laudable, but Al-Bashir’s easy response to their indictment is a disturbing prediction of how regimes can make a mockery of international justice.

Alex de Waal, a Sudan expert, has criticized the warrant as a public relations scheme meant to validate the legitimacy of the ICC. Though this is a harsh assessment, the rebuff that Al-Bashir issued to the court by expelling UN-contracted aid organizations working in Darfur is demoralizing to the future of international mediation. Al-Bashir has also announced that he will phase out all international aid organizations within a year.

Both the ICC and international aid groups have negatively politicized the Darfur advocacy movement. There are two fundamental issues with humanitarian aid in Darfur: first, groups that have jeopardized the neutrality of aid by providing rebel groups with material assistance; and second, the fact that aid does not necessarily ensure peace-building. An example of the festering, static state of the Internally Displaced Person (IDP) camps in Darfur is the emergence of a new generation of young men, the shabab, who have literally come of age in the camps. Their frustration at the lack of progress in their political situation has created deep-rooted agitation and a violent backlash against traditional clan leadership, which adds to the chaos of the fractured rebel movement in Darfur.

The reality is that humanitarian aid is currently indispensable in Darfur. International organizations’ efforts to stave off famine and starvation since the conflict erupted in 2003 have been absolutely formidable. The refugee situation, combined with unsanitary conditions and the acute insecurity of the region due to ongoing rebel-militia clashes, is something that has been honorably and adequately addressed by many dedicated NGOs.

However, humanitarian aid and international punitive measures only superficially address the symptoms of Sudanese civil strife. Historically, genocide has ended with regional military and political processes that have altered the political arena by force, making it become more inclusive of previously targeted minorities. Instead, we need to develop approaches that will circumvent the habit of ushering peace in by the barrel of a gun.

Multi-faceted and long-term solutions in developing interdisciplinary, transnational, direct resolution mechanisms that unswervingly address the problem of genocide should be placed into the protocol of regional intervention. The international community must focus on using economic leverage to partner with representatives of the myriad factions within Sudan, including local and national leaders, to restructure government representation and to address the grievances of marginalized groups. Complex educational programming must be present in the IDP camps to give youth an alternative to joining rebel movements.

We must recognize genocidal killing as an endemic flaw in our global fabric instead of expressing shock and horror each time it occurs and propagating the same tired rhetoric. Let us strive to maintain humanitarian aid that will not victimize or alienate opposite sides of the conflict. Let us advocate comprehensive political action to prevent human devastation, not just guilty and myopic reactions in the aftermath of disaster.

Sarah Flatto is a U3 Political Science student. Get in touch with her at sarahflatto@gmail.com. Especially if you’d like to answer the question that adorns the top of her Hyde Park.


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