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An open letter to the students of UMass -

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March 22, 2017

The case for genocide prevention

It is familiar to most of us that many student organizations, both on campus and throughout our high school years, have actively sought to inform us about the occurrence of genocide. Many classes we have taken have made reference to historical moments of genocide, the most recent and significant being the events of World War II and the Holocaust.

It would be rare to find a serious scholar and any person for that matter, advocating for the desirability of genocide. The most common excuse for such behavior is a desire by national leaders, or a whole population, for homogeneity in ethnic, cultural, political or religious matters. In times past, such behavior occurred more often without apologies. Today, there appears to be a general consensus that genocide as a concept is morally repugnant.

Whether this consensus means that genocide itself will never again occur in developed nations, or if it will simply be called something else, is still very much up for debate. Even today, we will occasionally encounter the idea of expulsion or transfer, which are attempts to accomplish societal homogeneity without bloodshed or murder. Expulsion and transfer are accomplished by forcibly removing a group from a location and transferring them to another, generally less desirable, location.

Genocide is unique in the sense that it is understood not to be a crime against an individual, but an entire group of people. This forces us to consider the idea of collective rights. In America, we generally see things in the form of individual rights. But in genocide, as in war or terrorism, it would hardly make sense to prosecute each individual case of murder. We have to consider whether social groups and identity still hold a lot of sway in modern life. It does indeed appear to be the tendency of human beings to associate with an in-group as a way of understanding where they belong. While we might want to believe otherwise, tribes and tribalism are not ancient concepts, but very much active even today.

Since no human being in principle supports the concept of genocide, what remains is to determine how best to address modern cases of genocide. We are familiar with student campaigns that address the genocides in Darfur, Burma and the Congo. This past February, Emmanuel Jal spoke in the Student Union concerning his experience as a child soldier fighting in Darfur. Tomorrow, Patrick Cook-Deegan will be speaking in the Campus Center concerning his 2006 bicycle trek through Burma, Laos and Cambodia in order to help bring attention to the situation in Burma and to raise funds for scholarship programs.

At the lecture this Wednesday, hosted by UMassSTAND, a student affiliate of the Genocide Intervention Network, it is expected that Cook-Deegan will make the case that the International Criminal Court (ICC), located at The Hague in the Netherlands, needs to urgently investigate the military government in Burma. Last February, Jal insisted that the situation in Darfur must be brought to the ICC.

The ICC appears to be a common path for genocide intervention advocates to recommend. The question that should be addressed is the effectiveness of the ICC to deal with these situations, especially when the countries in question are unlikely to be part of the treaty organization that created the ICC. It may be to consider military intervention under international auspices. The problem is mustering the will of developed nations to invest their soldiers in these conflicts, as military action in places with there is heated ethnic hatred can result in a multitude of deaths on the part of the intervening nations.

It is indeed heartwarming that so many students are eager to dedicate their time and effort to bring these issues to the forefront of our political discussion. We need to ensure that politicians and other public figures address the issues of genocide in a serious way. Indeed we will never understand the gravity of the situation from our vantage point. It may be desirable to visit areas where genocide is occurring in person, as Patrick Cook-Deegan did, with proper protection and local guides to ensure safety.

We know that compassion in our desire to end genocide is very much warranted, but we must recognize that the reluctance on the part of developed nations to immediately respond with military intervention is not based simply on hardheartedness, as leaders would be irresponsible if they did not consider the needs of their own citizens. We should be cognizant that it is not a virtue when a person’s apparent righteousness is actually done at the expense of a third party.

For these reasons, our primary task must be to raise broad public support for genocide intervention. This is why it is essential that University of Massachusetts students learn about these issues and seek out public forums that address the cases of genocide.

Eric Magazu is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at emagazu@student.umass.edu.

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