Crimes Against Humanity Persist In A Broken World

by Chelsea Milko

UNLV The Rebel Yell
Feb 19 2009

Response to war crimes must be attuned to changes

Upon hearing news of the Khmer Rouge genocide tribunal opening up
in Cambodia this week, my nostrils were reminded of the assaulting
stench of genocide that fouled much of the 20th century.

The grisly photos circulating of Pol Pot’s killing fields, where
a quarter of the country’s population perished due to starvation,
overwork and execution more than 30 years ago prompts me to wonder
if the decades-long epoch of such atrocities will ever receive its
own death knell.

Recent action taken to persecute culprits and accomplices was seen
as a breakthrough in corralling law enforcement agencies. The July
apprehension of the Srebrenica massacre mastermind Radovan Karadzic was
heralded as a victory for democracy against genocidal injustice. "The
butcher" of Bosnia now has an impending date with the United Nations
war crimes tribunal to face allegations of complicity in the horrific
ethnic cleansing of the 1990s.

In spite of that, the glacial pace at which war crimes are prosecuted
and the corrupt, biased elements that weaken international courts
counteract any movement to snatch human rights violators-at-large. Even
more maddening is that some of the most merciless perpetrators of
mass murder and torture techniques still roam free.

I am afraid that haunting images and sharp lessons from the abuses
the 20th century has not translated into networks and systems of
preventing more of the same in the future.

The carnage from mass exterminations in Armenia and Nanking, the
Nazi-led Holocaust and the Soviet-engineered famine in Ukraine were
supposed to sober us up. The calamitous 1994 extermination of 800,000
ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus by rival Hutu extremists in Rwanda
leveled a heavy helping of shame on international actors who failed
to respond swiftly to the mass killings. Those humanitarian crises
should have defogged the goggles of the U.N. and Western governments
in order to foresee military debacles and state collapses and prepared
for the inevitable fallout.

At the same time the world has been trying to piece together a
sensible analysis of the why and how of crimes against humanity-
the nature of war has been changing. Formal military clashes between
sovereign states over territory and resources are gradually being
replaced by small-scale proxy conflicts focused on ethnic tension and
historical hatred. Latent hostilities further inflame in ungoverned and
misgoverned regions where fragility breeds illegality. Rebel movements
are on the rise compared to major armed conflicts and have very similar
unraveling effects. As violent outbreaks in the Congo and rampant
hunger in Darfur demonstrate, vacuums of explosive conflict persist.

Those fertile zones of human rights violations and war crimes are not
just unspeakable pockmarks of the dotted geopolitical landscape of
the last century; they are also bitter representations of government
failure, political turmoil and warped economies. As long as militants,
warlords and insurgents can profiteer from the victimization of their
own people, global instability will be chronic in nature.

Civilian deaths are all too often deliberate and sponsored by the
plunders of war. Calculated attacks against non-combative civilians and
widespread brutalities including rape and disfigurement are strategies
that will not cease unless the incentive for militias to fight is
removed. In many ways, most of the intervening countries interested
in nation-building and humanitarian relief are tributaries of funding
that feed right into the raging rivers militant authoritarianism,
unsteady security and waning prosperity.

Western and many developing countries do have the means to guarantee
large-scale tragedies of the past and the horrors of today do not
endure. A multi-dimensional approach is needed to remove justification
and weaponry. We should not appease or galvanize the genocidists
any longer.

Policies must be crafted to end the definitional paralysis caused by
disagreement over what the term ‘genocide’ really entails. Foreign aid
donor must selectively withdraw contributions from the most egregious
violators while working to target monies to the survivors who need
it desperately. The transformation in the way wars are fought demands
more than just an upgrade in crisis management.

Decisive action is needed from the international community
to neutralize the root factors of inequality and discord- strip
combatants of legitimacy and incentives to resolve the debate over
how best to intervene.

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