Genocide: Humanity's Outer Limit

How do we assess the horrors of the events in Darfur? The United States State Department has called it genocide, but the UN has held back and, in November, sent in its own team of investigators. Clearly genocide is an emotive term that might get a global response and some degree of action. However, it is the varying definitions of genocide that cause the problem.

The World Today
Published 1 January 2005 Updated 12 November 2020 5 minute READ

Peter Quayle

Working with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia

Most widely-understood, the word genocide is used to describe – and condemn – methodical, mass violence suffused with racial hatred. The Oxford English Dictionary calls it, ‘the deliberate and systematic extermination of an ethnic or national group.’

Then there is the legal definition in the 1954 Genocide Convention. The problem is, the popular and legal meaning do not match exactly. The legal term has been stretched by some courts to fit its rhetorical use better and the consequence is a complex and uncertain law. While the world awaits a scholarly determination of genocide, people die. The Convention kills more people than it protects or prosecutes.

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