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Re: The sanctions: a crime against humanity but not genocidal?

A comment on the discussion about genocide.

I agree that 'crime against humanity' is a very strong and appropriate term to
describe US/UK government policy towards Iraq.

The biggest problem with using the words "genocide" or "genocidal" to describe
US/UK government policy lies not in the precise definition of genocide and its
applicability in the case of Iraq, but in what Dr Herring terms its "emotive"
character. The biggest problem is that genocide is such a highly-charged word.
This is such a powerful word that it can easily get in the way of the facts,
which always must be at the front.
It is also a powerful word which is constantly being hurled around and often
debased. For instance, in the auto issued by Spanish Judge Baltasar Garzón
Real which initiated Spain's attempt to extradite Pinochet, the former Chilean
dictator was charged with the "crime of genocide". Judge Garzón probably added
genocide to the charge sheet because there is no diplomatic immunity for this
crime, and because it strengthened his assertion of Spanish jurisdiction over
crimes commited in Chile.
More generally, we can say that the word genocide is abused when it is
advanced for opportunist reasons or when it is named for its emotive content
rather than for its scientific meaning. But even when its use is fully
justified, great care and caution should be taken in how it is used. To charge
someone with genocide is to terminate any negotiation with them. To people who
don’t know the facts that prove such a charge, it can sound infantile and

However… I do believe that the US/UK governments are committing a crime
against the Iraqi people that justly and precisely can be called genocide. At
the CASI conference, in the Sunday afternoon discussion attended by Jon Davies
of the Foreign Office's Iraq desk, I tried to explain what has been the
consensus view among at least the activists of Sheffield Campaign Against War
in the Gulf. We have given some thought (though I'm sure not enough!) to the
complex question of whether the campaign should publicly charge the UK and US
governments with genocide. We felt that if we were convinced the charge was
justified, we must not shrink from making it.
We have argued that the charge of genocide is justified because of the
presence of two conditions:
- the lives of the great majority of Iraqi people have been devastated and
destroyed by the total policy of the western imperialist powers towards their
- these "genocidal effects" are clearly premeditated. US and UK actions
towards Iraq reveal the requisite degree of mendacity and evil intent.

I personally have some additional reasons for maintaining that the US/UK are
carrying out a genocidal campaign. I don't believe that the civilian deaths
are "collateral damage", an unintended side-effect of a policy aimed at
regime-change or a reengineering of the regional balance of power.  There is
more to it than this.
The permanent policy of the imperialist powers is to prevent revolution.
Their encouragement of Saddam’s invasion of Iran was not out of fear of
“Islamic fundamentalism” but out of fear of a revolution which was made by, if
not led by, working people, and which had at its centre the longest general
strike in human history. Similarly, the imperialist powers have helped create
in Israel a powerful counter-revolutionary military force, whose military
supremacy remains a pillar of US military doctrine for the region, and whose
prime function is to prevent social revolution.
The last thing that the US and UK want, now or at any time, is for the Iraqi
people to overthrow the Iraqi state. The last thing they want is for their
dispute with the Iraqi regime to open the door to a popular uprising. They
don’t dare to weaken the regime without also attacking the people, without
traumatising them, starving them, wrecking their lives, demoralising them,
destroying their ability to assert their human rights and their class
interests. This is why they for so long helped Saddam to build up his
repressive regime; why they targeted the civilian infrastructure during the
40-day blitz in 1991; why, air exclusion zone notwithstanding, they gave a
green light to Saddam to use his helicopter gunships to put down the
post-blitz uprising. [Aside: anyone know who manufactured them? who sold them?
Even the enforced dependency of Iraqi civilians on the state fits in with this
strategy, which is in essence counter-revolutionary and aimed at the people.
When a state wages war on a people, I call it genocide.

However, I think I made a mistake to use the emotive, even if justified, ‘g’
word during the Sunday afternoon discussion at the CASI conference. The
atmosphere was already somewhat charged, due to the presence on stage of one
of the authors of the UK’s Iraq policy.  Another reason why this intervention
was unwise is that no consensus exists among the anti-sanctions campaign on
this point. The conference heard a lot of evidence, but had little chance to
evaluate this evidence. The effects of sanctions and war, broken down into
their separate dimensions and analysed in detail, need then to be put back
together and the question asked: what does it all add up to?  Within this, the
question of whether to call it genocide or not is of relatively minor
importance. But such a discussion would not be aided by the presence of a UK
government representative.

John S

Mark Parkinson wrote:

  Hi Eric

  Thanks for this feedback. Some points:

  1) I'd say that 1 million out of a population of 20 million is a very high
  proportion. To me it's the proportion that matters - what proportion
  of gypsies did the Nazis kill compared to the proportion of Jews

  2) As to intent, I would argue that ignorance would be a defence but
  continuing with a policy knowing full well its outcomes would make
  any defence much more difficult. Mrs Albright's past
  acknowledgement of the human costs is highly significant.

  3) In English Law there has been a particular distinction made eg:
   - if someone is having a heart attack and you don't go and get
  them the pills, that you know will save them, then you are not guilty.
   - if in the above situation you deprive them of the pills then you are

  4) The problem in this case is pinning down the guilty parties.

  In Iraq's case the Iraqi government would be innocent of this 'crime
  against humanity' even if it knowingly did not do what the UNSC

  The UNSC (or more particularly the US & the UK) are doing the
  depriving - therefore guilty!

  I think that the increasing use of the term 'genocide' with respect to
  the sanctions on Iraq is due to:

  1) the growing realisation of the sheer scale of the number of deaths
  2) the perception that the US & UK have pursued their policies in
  the full knowledge of the numbers involved

  > This is an difficult and emotive subject.
  > The 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of
  > Genocide defines genocide as 'any of the following acts
  > committed with intent to destroy, in whole or part, a
  > national , ethical, racial or religious group: (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 part; (d) imposing
  > measures intended to prevent births within the group; (e)
  > forcibly transferring children of the group to another
  > group.'
  > This is a highly premissive definition (eg how small a part
  > of that group? One person?) which goes well beyond the
  > popular conception based on the Holocaust faced primarily
  > by the Jews by the Nazis. In particular, people usually
  > think primarily of genocide primarily in terms of mass
  > killing in order to eliminate a particular group as
  > completely as possible.
  > A central issue of interpretation is 'intent': even if the
  > sanctions are having the effect of destroying the Iraqi
  > nation in whole or in part, the sanctions supporters deny
  > that that is their intent (and indeed argue that they are
  > trying to prevent such destruction).
  > In the terms of the Convention, to say that the sanctions
  > are genocidal in effect even if not in intent is just
  > incoherent, as the Convention defines genocide in relation
  > to intent.
  > For analysis of the conceptual and legal relationship
  > between 'genocide' and the increasingly widespread
  > term 'ethnic cleansing', see Natan Lerner, 'Ethnic
  > Cleansing' in Yoram Dinstein (ed.), Israeli Yearbook on
  > Human Rights, 24, (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers,
  > 1995) 103-117 and Drazen Petrovic, 'Ethnic Cleansing - An
  > Attempt at Methodology', European Journal of International
  > Law (1994) 5: 342-59.
  > The most important point in my view here is that whether or
  > not one calls the sanctions genocidal is not an issue if
  > indisputable fact but an irresolvable one of interpretation
  > and values. My values and my interpretation lead me to not
  > call the sanctions genocidal. I prefer to stick to 'crime
  > against humanity'. But I do not think that that somehow
  > closes the issue. It is perfectly understandable that some
  > might decide that what is meant by genocide has changed or
  > should change. Indeed, I am open to persuasion that this is
  > so. There are good arguments on both sides of this.
  > I hope that this is of some value.
  > Best wishes
  > Eric

  Mark Parkinson

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