By the time you finish reading this, perhaps a child would be dead in Darfur or a woman would be raped by the Janjaweed, certainly a climate of fear and insecurity would still persist. So please read quickly.
Those looking in from the outside can see little difference between genocide and crimes against humanity, but the difference is literally between life and continued death.
Sparing you the longwinded academic definitions, these crimes include mass killings, rape and other actions that threaten the survival of a group of people. Genocide covers this same range of crimes but is definitively limited to four groups – national, ethnical, racial or religious group. It also is particularly qualified by the element of ‘intent’. This means that the perpetrators of genocide must have ‘intent’ to commit these acts for them to be genocide. Presumably if the Nazis annihilation of the Jews and other ‘undesirables’ could have been passed off as a mass accident, then it would not be genocide. Although ‘intent’ can be inferred from the persistent patterns of the crimes, it still remains the most tenuous to prove.
Far more significant a difference is the obligation to act. Crimes against humanity engender debate and chastisement – but no obligation to bring it to an end. Genocide is different, nations are under obligation to act to stop it. That means they must do what needs to be done – individually and/or collectively to stop it. Stopping genocide requires intervention.
But intervention costs money. It takes organisation and resources. It costs money and requires solid political will to commit troops, weapons and resources to face down another sovereign power (usually) – regardless of the severity of their abuse. It often requires international cooperation and the setting aside of national interests. It needs to be entirely altruistic and truly for the good of humanity.
The UN Report into the human rights situation in the Darfur region of Sudan, after a detailed investigation into the documented atrocities stopped short of describing the Darfur abuses as genocide.
A UN team, headed by a notable war crimes veteran judge, saw the scale of the internal displacement due to the conflict, heard reports from the Darfur people, NGOs and humanitarian agencies. It was the most comprehensive international investigation into the abuses. Yet they determined that although so many had been killed and millions had been displaced, there was no intent on the part of the Sudanese government to destroy the Darfur.
So, the abuses in Darfur are not genocide but ‘mere’ crimes against humanity. No one is required to act to stop it. The Janjaweed commanders may face ICC charges in the future, but who will bring them to justice, under what mandate?
The dead are still dead, the dying not far behind them. To those displaced women and children, the broken men and the shattered lives of Darfur, these academic differences are no consolation whatsoever.