Machete Season: The Killers in Rwanda Speak: A Report by Jean Hatzfeld. Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2005. $24
Journey into Darkness: Genocide in Rwanda by Thomas P. Odom. Texas A&M University Press, 2005. $24.95 paper
Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda by Lt. Gen. Roméo Dallaire. Carroll & Graf, 2004. $30 cloth, $16.95 paper
A Problem From Hell: America and the Age of Genocide by Samantha Power. HarperCollins, 2003. $17.95 paper
We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families: Stories From Rwanda by Philip Gourevitch. Picador, 1999. $15 paper
It is more than sixty years since the end of World War II, when the world became aware of the Holocaust, the Third Reich’s conscious decision to murder every Jewish man, woman, and child in German-occupied Europe. The Nazi state-sponsored murder of six million Jews was subsequently labeled genocide, a term unknown before the war, but first used by Raphael Lemkin in his book Axis Rule in Occupied Europe, Laws of Occupation-Analysis of Government, Proposals for Redress, published in the United States in 1944. A Jewish refugee who fled Warsaw when Nazi Germany invaded Poland in 1939, Lemkin eventually made his way to the United States, where he taught law at Yale University, and subsequently contributed to the passage of the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide in December 1948. Lemkin had faith that the implementation of the genocide convention would “never again” allow a state to murder a people as was the case with Hitler’s “Final Solution.” In time, the Holocaust emerged as the paradigm case of genocide, whereby all future instances of state-directed mass murder would be measured against the Nazi annihilation of the Jews.
In addition to the passage of the genocide convention, the United Nations General Assembly also created a vehicle for enforcing the law when it established an International Court of Justice (ICJ), for the purpose of prosecuting the perpetrators of genocide. It was not until October 1988, however, that the United States Senate passed the Genocide Convention Implementation Act, which made genocide punishable in the United States. The law, however, included a reservation which stipulated that if the United States was accused of genocide, the president would have to consent before it would be a party before the International Court of Justice. The practical, if not legal, consequence of this reservation meant that if the United States produced evidence that a state was committing genocide, and attempted to bring the perpetrators before the ICJ, the accused country could assert the American reservation under the doctrine of reciprocity. The practical result of this reservation, therefore, was that the United States was effectively blocked from ever filing charges in the court against states perpetrating genocide
Legalities aside, as Samantha Power, the executive director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, notes in A Problem from Hell, abiding by a UN resolution to commit American troops, as part of an international force to intervene in behalf of the victims of genocide, has always been a politically unpopular option. Power cites a State Department official who stated, in responding to mass murder in Burundi, when the ruling Tutsis hunted down and killed between 100,000 and 150,000 Hutus, “Do you know of any official whose career had been advanced because he spoke out for human rights?” Furthermore, the “Realists” in the foreign policy establishment promoted the policy that the United States have a vital national interest before committing troops to prevent genocide. Short of citing the national interest, the use of the American military to protect helpless victims of genocide has rarely resonated with the American public. This was the case during the Holocaust, when the United States abandoned European Jews to Nazi extermination, and it was true in regard to the Clinton administration’s response to the genocide in Rwanda.
Philip Gourevitch, now the editor of The Paris Review, but a journalist when he wrote his riveting account of the genocide in Rwanda, We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families, notes that “the dead of Rwanda accumulated at nearly three times the rate of Jewish dead during the Holocaust. It was the most efficient mass killing since the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.” Like the Nazis, who believed in the creation of an Aryan utopia which necessitated the destruction of the Jewish people, the Hutu-led government of Rwanda imagined that by exterminating the Tutsi people they could create a better world. Both genocides were predicated on pseudo-racial assumptions that resulted in mass murder.
Although there are those who argue that the Hutus are Bantu and the Tutsis a Nilotic people, Gourevitch insists there is little documentary evidence to support this belief. More importantly, both people spoke the same language, followed the same religion, intermarried, and shared a common existence without making distinctions along the line of ethnicity, that is until the Europeans arrived in Central Africa.
Much as Houston Stewart Chamberlain served as an ideological link between nineteenth-century racist theory and Nazi anti-Semitism, John Hanning Speke, an Englishman, fostered a theory that more than a hundred years later would contribute to genocide in Rwanda. It was Speke who in 1863 set forth the Hamitic myth which claimed that all culture and civilization in Central Africa had been introduced by the taller, sharp-featured people whom he claimed were a Caucasoid tribe of Ethiopian origin, descended from King David. In Rwanda, the Tutsis were so identified, a superior race to the inferior Hutu Negroids. The Hutus, it was believed, were descendant from the biblical Ham. According to the Bible, Noah learned that his youngest son, Ham, had seen him naked, and subsequently told his brothers, Shem and Japheth, what he had observed. Noah responded by cursing Ham’s son, Canaan, and his progeny with the ill-fated words, “A slave of slaves shall he be to his brothers.” This biblical curse, which was used to justify the enslavement of Africans in the American colonies, was also applied to the Hutus, whom the Europeans designated to serve the Tutsis. Gourevitch notes that:
Few living Rwandans have heard of John Hanning Speke, but most know the essence of his wild fantasy—that the Africans who best resembled the tribes of Europe were inherently endowed with mastery—and whether they accept or reject it, few Rwandans would deny that the Hamitic myth is one of the essential ideas by which they understand who they are in the world.
Despite the Hutu monopoly on power which followed Rwanda’s independence in 1962, the Hamitic myth became the basis of state ideology. Gourevitch states that the myth was so deeply ingrained that an “almost mystical sense of inferiority persisted among Rwanda’s Hutu elite.” In November 1992, for example, the Hutu ideologue, Leon Mugesera called on Hutus to send the Tutsis back to Ethiopia.
When the Belgians replaced the Germans as the colonial masters in Rwanda after World War I, they elevated the Tutsi to positions of power over the majority Hutu population. The Belgians bestowed this authority on the Tutsis because of stereotypes about Rwandans which framed a picture of the Tutsi as a race of warrior kings, surrounded by the subordinate race of Hutu peasants. During the genocide which commenced in April 1994, the European legacy, which synthesized the Hamitic myth with the perceived distinctive physical characteristics between both groups, came home to roost when the bodily appearance of the Tutsi became a death sentence. The archetype Hutu physiology was mainly stocky and round-faced, dark-skinned, flat nosed, with thick lips and a square jaw. The Tutsis were lanky and long-faced, light-skinned, with narrow noses and narrow chins. Because of frequent intermarriage, however, over time there were numerous exceptions to the physical stereotypes of both groups.
The modern history of Rwanda began in 1921 when it and Burundi, formerly part of German East Africa, were placed under a League of Nations mandate which was awarded to Belgium. Although a minority of the population under the Belgians, the Tutsis became a privileged class, and asserted their political and social superiority over the majority Hutu population. In 1931, Belgium introduced identity cards which specified the ethnic group of the bearer, a policy that continued until 1994. The introduction of the identity cards marked a symbolic turning point in the subsequent history of Rwanda. As Gourevitch writes, “whatever Hutu and Tutsi identity may have meant in the pre-colonial state, the Belgians had made ‘ethnicity’ the defining feature of Rwandan existence.” The Belgians had introduced the race card and subsequently, Gourevitch informs us, every schoolchild was reared in the doctrine of racial superiority and inferiority, which led to a steady erosion of a common national identity. In its place there arose a culture of mutually exclusionary discourse based on competing claims of entitlement and injury. Rwanda became a UN trust territory in 1946 and was administered as a Belgian colony, but when the last Tutsi king, Mutara Rudahigwa, died in 1959, his death was followed by massacres perpetrated by Hutu peasants against their Tutsi overlords, leading to the exodus of hundreds of thousands of Tutsis. Soon after Rwanda declared its independence in 1962, the Hutu-led Rwandan army carried out the first wide-spread massacre of Tutsis, and continued to periodically launch assaults against them for the next decade. In 1978, Juvenal Habyarimana, a Hutu, was elected President of Rwanda. Under his leadership, the persecution of Tutsis continued until 1990, when the Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) was organized from Tutsi militias operating in Tanzania, Uganda, Burundi, and Zaire, thus igniting a civil war which resulted in Tutsi victories in different parts of Rwanda. President Habyarimana responded by stoking the anger of the Hutu population towards the Tutsis, and, in the months preceding the genocide, promoted the incendiary slogan of “Hutu Power.” This battle cry became the motto of the interahamwe, a cadre of young Hutu extremist gangs created by the government to foster violence against Rwanda’s Tutsi population. The fighting between both the Tutsis and the Hutus eventually culminated in negotiations between the RPF and the Habyarimana government. The subsequent Arusha Peace Agreement in Tanzania (August 1993), which ended the civil war, commenced a peace process with the objective of creating a political voice for the Tutsis in Rwanda. Hardliners in the Hutu leadership, however, opposed the Arusha accords, which precipitated Habyarimana’s assassination on April 6, 1994, when his plane was shot down by a mysterious missile, thus setting the stage for the genocide.
The new militant Hutu leadership set in motion the organized unemployed interahamwe gangs to massacre Tutsis. Armed mostly with machetes, the interahamwe was joined by many in the Hutu population who shouted the refrain “Hutu Power,” as they engaged in a killing spree that was unprecedented in its ferocity. That the resulting genocide, which culminated in the murder of 800,000 Tutsi men, women, and children, was preventable is the argument made in Shake Hands with the Devil by Lt. General Roméo Dallaire, who served the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR 1) as its Force Commander during the genocide. General Dallaire was appointed by the United Nations to lead a contingent of peace-keepers to monitor the implementation of the Arusha Peace Agreement. The authors discussed in this essay attest to Dallaire’s valiant efforts to head off the evolving genocide, but he found himself frustrated by the United Nations’ reluctance to provide him with the necessary military personnel and logistic support that would have prevented the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives.
The mass-murders were provoked by radio broadcasts, which referred to the Tutsis as inyenzi or “cockroaches,” much as Nazi propaganda referred to the Jews as “parasites.” Dallaire notes that Rwanda is a radio-based culture in which broadcasts were “akin to the voice of God, and if the radio called for violence, many Rwandans would respond, believing they were being sanctioned to commit these actions.”
Dallaire’s tome describes the unfolding genocide in detail, a murderous frenzy in which children were brutally killed, pregnant women had their fetuses ripped from their womb as they were murdered, and where the churches were defiled by the massacre of the Tutsis who sought refuge only to find that the Hutu priests, in this mostly Catholic country, betrayed them to the killers. With his undermanned force, Dallaire was helpless to prevent the bloodshed. Dallaire laments the fact that had the UN given him permission to act, he could have prevented much of the carnage. Instead, the UN ordered him not to intervene, not even to intercept caches of machetes that were subsequently used in the genocide. In addition to his graphic account of the atrocities, Dallaire’s indispensable record is also a scathing indictment of the advanced industrialized world in general, and the United States in particular, in its reaction to the unfolding genocide. Dallaire argues that because of casualties the United States suffered in Somalia, the Clinton administration was reluctant to support UN intervention in Rwanda, lest it be forced to send troops to stop the genocide. This condemnation of the Clinton administration is echoed by Samantha Power who writes:
When the massacres started, not only did the Clinton administration not send troops to Rwanda to contest the slaughter, but refused countless other options. President Clinton did not convene a single meeting of his senior foreign policy advisors to discuss U.S. options for Rwanda. His top aides rarely condemned the slaughter. The United States did not deploy its technical assets to jam Rwandan hate radio, and it did not lobby to have genocidal Rwandan government’s ambassador expelled from the United Nations. Those steps that the United States did take had deadly repercussions. Washington demanded the withdrawal of UN peacekeepers from Rwanda . . .
Dallaire contends that there were politically pragmatic reasons why the United States and other industrialized countries did not support intervention in Rwanda.
When it comes to genocidal conflict, states Dallaire, the criteria for intervention is whether the country has any possible strategic value to the world powers. If so, “then it seems that everything from covert operations to the outright use of overwhelming force is fair game. If it is not, indifference is the order of the day.” Rwanda, a poor nation located in Central Africa, had absolutely no value to the developed world, which resulted in a reluctance to invest financially in intervention or risk the possibility of suffering casualties. The absence of a vital national interest trumped any humanitarian consideration that might have stopped the genocide. Dallaire divulges that “an American officer felt no shame as he informed me that the lives of 800,000 Rwandans were only worth risking the lives of ten American troops.” Gourevitch similarly reports the response of an American military officer who stated that in regard to Rwanda, “genocide had about as much emotional impact as the words ‘cheese sandwich.’” Writing with great passion, Dallaire ponders the question, “are we all human, or are some more human than others?” Dallaire concludes that the failure to prevent genocide in Rwanda suggests that many in the developed world consider their lives worth more than those of other citizens on the planet. But for those who believe that the world shares a common humanity, “then we must be prepared to move beyond national self-interest to spend our resources and spill our blood to prevent future genocide.”
In the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide, when the Tutsi RPF emerged victorious in the struggle against the hard-line Rwandan government, millions of Hutus fled the country, finding sanctuary in Goma, across the border in Zaire. The international community, including the United States, responded to this exodus of almost two million Hutus, by establishing refugee camps in Goma. The refugees, however, also included the remnants of the defeated Hutu military, and an even greater number of interahamwe militia, the main perpetrators of the genocide. The refugee camps were established and administered by the United Nations, and non-government relief organizations, which included American representation. Aside from feeding and clothing the refugees, the United Nations primary objective was to repatriate the evacuees back to Rwanda as soon as possible. But the unrepentant Hutu perpetrators, who blended in with the refugee population, began killing camp inmates so as to intimidate them to renew the battle against the Tutsis. To complicate this already tense situation the RPF, whose ranks included many soldiers whose families had been murdered by the Hutus, knew who the killers were and cordoned off the camps. Under these circumstances, it was inevitable that fighting would erupt between the RPF and the remnants of the Hutu military. This aspect of the Rwandan tragedy is told in Journey Into Darkness by Thomas P. Odom, an American intelligence officer, who served as the United States attache in Zaire in the immediate aftermath of the genocide.
Like Power and Dallaire, Odom is critical of America’s role in the unfolding genocide, accusing the Clinton administration of moving at glacial speed, first in recognizing that genocide was taking place, and then the timeliness of its response to the outfitting of UNAMIR 2, whose mission was to contribute to the security and protection of displaced persons, refugees, and civilians at risk in Rwanda. By the time the UNAMIR 2 force was equipped to halt the killings, however, the genocide and the war was largely over. Subsequently, the United States, through Operation Support Hope, participated within the framework of the United Nations to play a role in efforts to solve the refugee crisis in the aftermath of the genocide. Odom argues, however, that although the objective to halt the killings between the RPF and the Hutus was achievable, the effort to return the refugees to Rwanda was an unrealistic one. Odom writes:
There was no way the United States, the international community, or any combination of forces was going to force two million Rwandan refugees to pick up and go home. They had just slaughtered eight hundred thousand of their neighbors. They believed an equally bloodthirsty army was waiting for them across the border They had just marched one hundred miles or more to escape that army, suffering at least seventy thousand dead.
Caught between their fear of the RPF and the armed Hutu military, and interahamwe, the refugees had little choice but to follow the dictates of the latter. Furthermore, as long as the Hutu hardliners were armed, there was little chance that a return of the refugees to Rwanda could be accomplished without further bloodshed. After the humiliating setback in Somalia, the Clinton administration saw no political capital in attempting to disarm the Hutus.
Looking back at the events in Rwanda, Odom concludes that by 1995, a year after the genocide, the United States still did not have a clear policy in Rwanda. The Clinton administration, states Odom, remained reactive to events. The United States sought to end the killings and bring about stability by reducing external threats:
We believed if we did not work toward that aim, the new government in Rwanda was bound to strike out at its external enemies and grow increasingly harder on its internal foes. Regional conflict was on the horizon . . . if we did not move quickly enough . . . Rwanda would take most of Central Africa with it into war.
In late 1996, the RPF moved into Zaire and closed the refugee camps, which included the disarming of 110,000 armed Hutus. For the most part, the Hutus were repatriated and those identified as having participated in the genocide were imprisoned. When instability in the region continued, the Rwandan government created an allied army of Tutsi exiles in Zaire and ultimately conquered the country. Odom notes that the Rwandan action in Zaire led to an expanded ongoing war. Zaire, renamed the Congo, was the scene of an uneasy peace and periodic fighting between Uganda, Zimbabwe, Zambia, the Congo, and Rwanda. Odom estimates that as of 2005 the casualties in this “African World War,” exceeded three million.
Unlike the books discussed above, Jean Hatzfield’s Machete Season takes a different perspective on the Rwandan genocide. His important work seeks to understand how the perpetrators rationalized their participation in cold-blooded mass murder. Following the return of the Hutu refugees to Rwanda, the Tutsi government adopted a special genocide code to deal with the perpetrators. Although all of the perpetrators were liable for the death penalty, the genocide code limited executions only to those who planned, organized, supervised, and instigated mass murder, as well as to those who participated in sexual torture. For those perpetrators who followed government orders to kill, the maximum penalty was life imprisonment, or a reduced sentence if a guilty plea or a valid confession was forthcoming.
Hatzfeld interviewed ten men who were part of a gang that were heavily involved in the killings and were now imprisoned in a Rwandan jail for their role in the genocide. It was the author’s objective to glean from these killers the motivation behind their participation in mass murder. Hatzfeld, a journalist based in Paris, notes that he was drawn to write about mass murder in Rwanda because of its similarity to the Holocaust. He discovered that in both genocides there were similar patterns of behavior, whereby the decision to kill was the result of government indoctrination and preparations formulated and implemented by orders passed down by legitimate state authority. The precondition for mobilizing both Germans and Hutus to annihilate their targeted victims required that the government inundate the perpetrators with propaganda that declared Jews and Tutsis to be subhuman, thus making it easier for the killers to rationalize murder. As one of the Rwandan perpetrators informs Hatzfeld, “we no longer saw human beings when we turned up a Tutsi . . . savagery took over the mind.”
Hatzfeld’s study makes an important contribution to our understanding of the darker impulses of humanity which, under certain conditions, can undermine the fragile line between civilization and barbarity. This was true in Rwanda as it was in Nazi Germany, and we are witnessing this breakdown in Dafur. In his interviews with the Rwandan perpetrators, Hatzfeld’s work echoes a similar type of investigation found in Christopher Browning’s influential Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland (HarperCollins, 1992). Browning’s indispensable work on the Holocaust examined the reaction of a battalion of German Order Police, numbering 500 men, who in July 1942 rounded up 1,800 Jews in the Polish village of Jozefow and shot some 1,500 women, children, and elderly people. Browning discovered that many of these overage reserve policemen were neither committed Nazis nor virulent anti-Semites. Within sixteen months, however, these “ordinary men” participated in the direct shooting deaths of at least 38,000 Jews and the deportation of an additional 45,000 to the Treblinka death camp. Based on postwar interrogation records, Browning recorded what they did, what they thought, and how they rationalized their behavior. Hatzfeld notes the reluctance of those motivated by anti-Semitism among Browning’s police reservists to acknowledge that the hatred of Jews was driving them to kill at the time. Hatzfeld likens Browning’s “ordinary men” to some of the Hutus he interviewed who were also reluctant to admit their anti-Tutsi feelings, inasmuch as the author was told that “the Hutu infant was swaddled with hatred for the Tutsis before opening his eyes to the world.” He found that the perpetrators were more reticent about their feelings towards their victims than they were about their first murders, and Hatzfeld concludes that the Rwandan perpetrators may have used this as a tactic to exonerate themselves by insisting that they killed because they were brainwashed, a phenomena found in the literature surrounding the interrogation of Nazis after the war about their participation in the killing of Jews.
Hatzfeld discovered that the hatred of the victim was not the only motivation for many of the Hutu perpetrators to participate in the mass murder. One Hutu interviewed was happily married to a Tutsi, and harbored no anti-Tutsi feelings at the beginning of the genocide. Another was only interested in playing soccer, never caring at all about anti-Tutsiism, until he got caught up in the massacres. Even the leader of the interahamwe, Joseph-Desire Bitero, was not rabidly anti-Tutsi until the last few months before the massacres. From his interviews, Hatzfeld concludes that:
This tends to prove that if anti-Tutiism was a driving force of the genocide, helping to push it into criminal reality, the bigotry was only one motive of many and not sufficient on its own to explain everyone’s actions and attitudes. . . . Although they are not disturbed by the killings, they often seemed befuddled and overwhelmed by them. Ignace, for example, one of the most vicious Tutsi-haters and certainly one of the most anti-Tutsi in the gang, is one of those who swung his machete the least. . . . They dread facing the consequences of the genocide. . . . More important they are afraid to learn the reasons and motives behind the upheaval and see no point in trying to understand it.
A conclusion not unlike the one that Browning found among the members of the police battalion. From Hatzfeld’s interviews there emerge a number of reasons why “ordinary” Hutus perpetrated genocide, least of which was that some of the killers enjoyed it. As one of the gang explained, “the more we saw people die, the less we thought about their lives . . . and the more we got used to enjoying it.” Some were fascinated by the process of killing. One Hutu revealed to Hatzfeld that he had killed two children and found that “it was strange to see the children drop without a sound. It was almost pleasantly easy.” Compare this testimony to that of a member of the German police battalion who would shoot only infants and children, to “release” them from their misery. Still another informs Hatzfeld that “killing is very discouraging if you yourself must decide to do it . . . but if you must obey the orders of the authorities . . . if you see that the killing will be total and without consequences for yourself, you feel soothed and reassured. You go off to it with no more worry.” Then there was the matter of the competition for limited land resources. A Hutu reveals that he killed the Tutsis because there was not enough land for the two ethnic groups, and since neither would leave, it was up to the Hutus to solve the problem. This rationale for killing was reinforced when another of the gang told Hatzfeld that hatred flourished in the fields because the plots of land were not large enough for the two ethnic groups.
Profiting from the murder of the Tutsis was also a factor that played a role in the genocide. As was the situation in Nazi Germany, when the government “Aryanized” Jewish property, Hutus benefitted from the removal of the Tutsis. As the author was told, when you receive firm orders, and promises of long-term benefits, “the wickedness of killing until your arm falls off is gone to you.” The wives of the perpetrators fanned the zeal of their husbands to kill Tutsis, as they weighed the loot and the promise of spoils from the victims.
Although there are differences when one compares the Holocaust to the genocide in Rwanda, there are also striking similarities. Hatzfeld notes that in Germany the intention was to purify being and thought by eliminating the Jews, who were found guilty of fostering a degenerating influence on the nation. In rural Rwanda, the intent of the genocide was to purify the earth, to cleanse it of its cockroaches and snakes, the Tutsis. Whereas the Holocaust was the product of an industrial society using the methods of technology to murder its victims, the Rwandan genocide was the product of an agricultural people, whose weapon of choice was the machete. Nevertheless, as Hatzfeld notes, despite archaic weapons, the Hutus, in terms of killing efficiency, proved to be more effective than the Nazis in murdering the Jews and Gypsies. Hatzfeld points out that some 800,000 Tutsis were killed in twelve weeks; whereas, at the height of the shootings and deportations in 1942, the Nazi regime, equipped with its weapons of mass destruction, such as carbon monoxide, Zyklon B, and heavy machine guns, never attained so murderous a result anywhere in Germany or its fifteen occupied countries.
Both the Holocaust and the Rwanda genocide were implemented in the midst of war. Hatzfeld notes that war is neither the cause or consequence of genocide, but that the mass murder of innocent victims occurs because war suspends the rule of law, “it systematizes death, normalizes savagery, fosters fear, . . . reawakens old demons and unsettles morality and human values.” As one Rwandan summed it up for Hatzfeld, “war is a dreadful disorder in which the culprits of genocide can plot incognito,” yet another confirmation why genocide continues to be “the problem from hell . . . ” Since the Holocaust, the international community has witnessed the outbreak of genocide, or mass murder that approximates it, in Bosnia, Cambodia, Kosovo, Rwanda, Srebrenica, in Saddam Hussein’s use of poison gas against the Kurds, and now in Darfur. Ironically, as Samantha Power informs us, the industrialized nations that use the absence of a vital national interest to avoid intervention in behalf of the victims of genocide have also invoked the Holocaust to justify inaction. Because the Holocaust is the model for measuring the perpetration of state-generated genocide, intercession is avoided if it does not totally measure up to the Nazi extermination of the Jews. Power cites the reaction of US Assistant Secretary of State Richard Murphy to Saddam’s use of chemical warfare against the Kurds to illustrate her point. Murphy refused to acknowledge Saddam’s murder of the Kurds as an act of genocide because, “it was clear to me that Saddam had no intention of exterminating ‘all’ Kurds.” Power notes that Murphy “had never read the genocide convention and thus equated genocide with Hitler’s holistic campaign to wipe out every last Jew in Europe.”
The Bush administration has acknowledged that the atrocities in Darfur are acts of genocide, but has proceeded to do little to halt it. Once again, the industrialized world is faced with the opportunity to prevent the murder of tens of thousands, and once again reasons are found to delay intervention until it is too late, as was the response to the Holocaust and the genocide in Rwanda, although the latter so closely paralleled the former. Based on its record, Lemkin’s faith in the United Nations to prevent another Holocaust may have been misplaced, and the international community’s failure to respond to genocide forces us to ponder Samantha Power’s somewhat cynical but, nevertheless, insightful assessment of the UN genocide convention when she writes, that in practice it means “never again would the Germans kill Jews in Europe in the 1940s.”