Articles on the Kosovo Conflict
Statement on Kosovo Genocide
by Holly Burkhalter
Advocacy Director, Physicians for Human Rights
April 9, 1999 (on National Public Radio)
The massive butchery of 800,000 unarmed Rwandan men, women, and children began five years ago this week. It was the clearest case of genocide since the Holocaust, but the United States and the rest of the world stood by without lifting a finger to stop it. Our government doesn't appear to have learned much since then. Today, there are clear signs that another genocide is unfolding, this time in Kosovo, but President Clinton, whose bombing campaign has done nothing to protect civilians on the ground, has made it absolutely clear that no American soldiers will be deployed to stop the killing and mass expulsion of Kosovar Albanians.
Horrible abuses of all types occur all over the world, but the crime of genocide is in a class by itself. The Genocide Convention, which the United States has signed and ratified, defines the crime as: "...acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group... by killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its destruction, in whole or in part."
We at Physicians for Human Rights believe that what is occurring in Kosovo meets that test. Milosevic and his forces are clearly destroying at least a part of this ethnic group by forcibly driving almost half its population out of Kosovo, by targeted killings of community leaders, by the execution of Kosovar men, and boys, and the whole-scale demolition of homes, villages, and cultural and religious sites. Our government is legally required by the Genocide Convention to prevent, suppress, and punish the crime of genocide. But bombs alone will not do the job. The killings, expulsions, and destruction have accelerated wildly during the past three weeks, and there is no end in sight. The magnitude of the crime unfolding in Kosovo requires President Clinton to do what he has ruled out: immediately deploy ground forces to expel the all Serb soldiers and police from Kosovo, and create a safe environment for the refugees and displaced people to return to Kosovo in safety.
President Clinton bears a heavy burden for failing to respond to the Rwanda genocide and for responding so belatedly in Bosnia. He has had ample warning of the genocide to come in Kosovo: for the past year, Milosevic has conducted a systematic campaign of murder, burnings, shelling, arrest, torture, and targeted execution of the Albanian community's doctors, political leaders, journalists, and intellectuals. If President Clinton avoids taking the painful action necessary to expel Serb forces from Kosovo, he will be remembered as the President on whose watch three genocides unfolded. There is still time for him to claim a different legacy: that of a leader who has learned from the past, and vowed, this time, to stop the crime of genocide and punish its perpetrators.
Also by Holly Burkhalter:
Facing Up to Genocide: The Obligation to Intervene (PDF)
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Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide
Adopted by the United Nations General Assembly, December 12, 1948
Came in force after ratification, January 12, 1951
In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:
(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
The following acts shall be punishable:
(b) Conspiracy to commit genocide;
(c) Direct and public incitement to commit genocide;
(d) Attempt to commit genocide;
(e) Complicity in genocide.
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What is genocide and when can the term be applied? Some argue that the definition is too narrow and others that the term is devalued by misuse. For this discussion, see Defining genocide (BBC) and Five Misconceptions About Using the Word Genocide, by Dr. Gregory Stanton, President, Genocide Watch (PDF).