Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Well, if it's only ethnic cleansing...

On a completely different note from my usual observations about social media and the world of journalism, I feel the compelling need to comment on the recent violence in Kenya resulting from a disputed election between the current president, Mwai Kibaki and the opposition leader, Raila Odinga.

Earlier reports today noted that the surge in violence has left 800 dead and the Kikuyu--the tribe of Kibaki--are the major victims.

Jendayi Frazer, a U.S. envoy to Africa is calling the violence ethnic cleansing and not genocide but circumstances remind me of the grim genocides of the past (and that are currently happening) that start out as small incidents.

The genocide in Darfur has gone on since 2003 and has not gained the attention it deserves. Other genocides include Rwanda in 1994 and the Cambodian Killing Fields in 1975. Not to mention the death of 11 million people, 6 million of them Jews, in the Holocaust during WWII.

Perhaps lesser known is the first genocide of the 20th century. No, it wasn't the Jews in WWII, it was the Armenians in 1915 during WWI. It is estimated that one and a half million people died between 1915 and 1923. There is still controversy surrounding the mass murder of these people as the Turkish government has continually denied it ever happened.

In Kenya, the recent election controversy was the straw that broke the camel's back after decades of tension from grudges over land. Using a term like "ethnic cleansing" is an easy way to avoid providing aid.

The Associated Press Reports:

In Washington, the State Department appeared to back away from Frazer's characterization of the violence as ethnic cleansing.

''Very clearly, there is a very serious situation, if not crisis, with respect to people being displaced in Kenya,'' spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters. He said experts from the State Department's Office of War Crimes Issues were compiling information about the violence but had not yet made any findings.

But he noted ''ethnic cleansing,'' unlike ''genocide,'' is not a legal term with a set definition.

''If they do document any instances of atrocities, we'll have to look at what next steps to take, but at this point we're not there yet,'' McCormack said.

Until the situation is deemed "genocide" no legal action needs to be taken, which is disturbing. Ethnic cleansing is not any less minor of a situation than a declared genocide and efforts should be made to combat it.

Here is a video from Reuters about some of the violence:

The atrocities of WWII left everyone with the motto, "Never Again" engrained in our heads but somehow we've managed to let millions more slip through the cracks. This is by no means just the United States' responsibility. It is everyone's responsibility.

1 comment:

Dan Kennedy said...

It is amazing what a contentious issue it is whether any given mass killing constitutes "genocide." As you say, it's because using the word triggers an international legal response. Here's a good explanation of the background.