Moving Beyond the Genocide Debate: Mass Atrocities and the International Community
Theory vs. Policy? Connecting Scholars and Practitioners, ISA Annual Convention 2010, New Orleans: 2/17/2010-2/20/2010
12 Pages Posted: 6 Mar 2010
Date Written: February 2010
This paper, presented at the ISA annual Convention in New Orleans, aims at deconstructing the "genocide debate" by identifying why scholars from various fields (law, political science, sociology) and practitioners seem to argue about genocide, despite the fact that they are in fact talking about different things.
In relation to law, the paper argues that establishing that a genocide occurred does not trigger a legal duty to intervene, despite popular belief. The Genocide Convention is extremely vague on this point and the ICJ in its Genocide decision in 2007 only found Serbia responsible for not preventing the genocide in Srebrenica in light of its special relationship to the Bosnian Serbs, thus not recognising a general duty to prevent. Moreover, the paper argues that in fact, genocide is not fit to be part of international criminal law, because it introduces motive in a crime which is essentially the same as crimes against humanity from a criminal law perspective (same intent to commit the same acts).
In relation to other social sciences, the paper argues that sociologists should abandon the legal prison that is the definition of genocide in the genocide convention and not try to change it. They must make their own definition that better covers the socio-political and collective dimensions of genocide.
Finally, in relation to activists, the paper suggests that it is morally unconvincing to single out genocide as a "worse" crime, and that they should insist on all mass atrocities as being "bad" in order to obtain public support for their activities. Moreover, in light of the absence of a legal duty to intervene linked to genocide, they should be lobbying, if that is what they want, for a duty to prevent that covers all mass atrocities, not just genocide, the criminal definition of which is in any case ill-adapted for an evaluation outside a court of law, before or during the commission of the acts.
Keywords: genocide, darfur, responsibility to protect
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