Saturday, December 4, 2010

Preventing genocide

Interesting review by Richard Just at the New Republic of Geoffrey Robinson's new book “If You Leave Us Here, We Will Die”: How Genocide Was Stopped in East Timor. The book's title is an obvious allusion to Gourevitch's classic We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will be Killed With Our Families: Stories from Rwanda, only in East Timor's case genocide was (largely) avoided.

Just notes that "the ability to ignore human rights, to regard mass killing coldly and cynically, is not the province of any one political party or even any one ideology," a conclusion that echoes Samantha Power's argument in her devastating A Problem from Hell. He also points out that, in the end, preventing genocide was not particularly costly, either in economic terms or in political (good-)will. But it does require that the regime sponsoring a (potential) genocide be vulnerable, as Indonesia was in the late 1990s.

The obvious question is whether the Sudanese government is similarly vulnerable, should things get out of control in Southern Sudan after the scheduled referendum on independence a few months from now. Richard Just thinks not, and I am inclined to agree. But that does not mean genocide cannot be prevented; only that it requires a stronger commitment (and some advance preparation, for example in terms of lobbying at the UN) on the part of those who would do so. An opportunity, perhaps, for the Obama administration to improve its standing on human rights? Hope springs eternal!

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