What is genocide?

This question has been asked and argued over since Raphael Lemkin first coined the word in 1943. However, the December 1948UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide , which had force beginning in January 1951, gives a clear definition of the term. Article 2 of the document states that:

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.

Article 3 of the Convention mandates that steps be taken to punish those guilty of genocide, or indeed those involved in any of the following ways:

(a) Genocide;

(b) Conspiracy to commit genocide;

(c) Direct and public incitement to commit genocide;

(d ) Attempt to commit genocide;

(e) Complicity in genocide.

Labeling a conflict as genocide means that something has to be done about it. When the UN, other organizations, countries, and government officials from around the world refuse to use the word "genocide," they are trying to give themselves permission to stand by and watch with impunity while innocent people are massacred. The term genocide has become, in Samantha Power's words, a "threshold for concern." In America and the Age of Genocide, the presentation she made on March 26, 2002 at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C., Power called attention to this terrible phenomenon. "...Part of the...challenge is not to make genocide the threshold for concern such that we wait to see the qualitative and quantitative distinction of what is being committed before we engage diplomatically, politically, and indeed potentially militarily." During her visit to the museum Power examined the Rwandan genocide and why it was allowed to go on for as long as it did, introduced her book, A Problem from Hell , and talked about not only bystanders but "upstanders"- those who were and are desperately trying to keep the promise of "Never Again," which has been being broken ever since it was made.

As Samantha Power and John Prendergast pointed out in their June 2, 2004 Los Angeles Times article, Break Through to Darfur , "it is no longer only the Sudanese who are complicit" to the present conflict in the Sudan, which has been going on for the past three years. After having sanctimoniously declared the conflict "genocide," the United States has tried to justify its refusal to take action against the Khartoum govern by making a show of demanding access to the camps to provide humanitarian aid. According to Power and Prendergast, however, "...Humanitarian actions do not solve what are, at base, political problems; only by urgently applying high-level and sustained pressure on Khartoum will lives in Darfur be saved." If this is the case and America's past inaction is any indication of its unwillingness to involve itself in politically risky situations, it is unlikely that the US will play a more significant role in the rescue of Sudan's imperiled Darfurians.