To have meaning, ‘genocide’ must be protected from political exploitation: Erna Paris

Edna Paris on some of the cynicism involved with the use of ‘genocide’ in describing the war crimes of the Islamic State:

In his formal remarks, Mr. Kerry seemed notably vague on the subject. He spoke about threats to Christians, about crimes against humanity and war crimes – all indisputable facts, but unlikely to meet the threshold of genocide. He spoke of his belief that if IS were ever to create its hoped-for caliphate, “it would seek to destroy what remains of the ethnic and religious mosaic once thriving in the territory.” Tellingly, he distanced himself by saying he was “neither judge nor prosecutor nor jury,” and that potential charges against the extremists must result from an independent international investigation.

That, as Mr. Kerry certainly knew, was the crux of the matter. Genocide is the worst crime ever to be codified into law; as human beings we had to invent the category to contain the terrifying contents of the Nazi assault on the Jews of Europe during the Second World War. Mr. Kerry’s charge of genocide against Christians, made under heavy political pressure, with sparse evidence, degraded the crucial concept we must rely upon to punish the most vicious crimes.

In Britain, Prime Minister David Cameron bluntly labelled attempts to classify IS crimes as genocide, “politicization.” “These decisions must be based on credible judicial processes,” he said, lending credence to Mr. Kerry’s own words about the need for independent investigation. The government of Canada (typically more polite) also declined to join the United States, stating that it would stick with the designation of war crimes.

It’s hard to predict where the Kerry declaration will lead. What the Secretary of State did offer was refuge for Christian and other minority victims of IS brutality; however, many of those other victims are Muslims – and in the harsh world of Donald Trump, Muslims are less than welcome in America.

What matters most is the cynicism with which the singular term “genocide,” with its real and symbolic import, has been abused. If it is to continue to have purpose and meaning, the charge of genocide must be protected from political exploitation.

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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