Death defined along ethnic lines

By Patricia Fuentes

There was a time when the term "genocide" struck awe and sincere disgust in people, when politicians were not afraid to say it, when people swore they would do everything to not let it happen again. I believe that this time has past.

In 1994, the Holocaust memorial museum opened in Washington D.C. In a speech, Vice-president Al Gore reflected on the horrors of the Holocaust. Sympathizing with the victims, he lauded the community of Holocaust survivors for their efforts in educating the public and making sure history is not forgotten. That community is largely made up of Jewish Holocaust survivors, who made the memorial possible through a strong lobby and presence in American politics. They were the target of genocide, and their efforts should be rightly applauded.

However, in that same week, during a press conference with the bureau for the U.S. Secretary of State, one reporter asked if what was going on in Rwanda was genocide. In the height of the openly racial conflict and slaughter of Hutu and Tutsi, the spokesperson responded, "No, I would not call it genocide. I would call it a group of people killing a large number of another group of people, but, no, I would not call it genocide."

President Clinton would apologize for not calling it genocide four years later, at the height of the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

Genocide, or something like it, has happened in Cambodia, Peru, Iran, East Timor and the Balkans, yet no government pursued it as genocide, nor did US foreign policy pick it up. Recent events in Africa, including the persecution of Christians in Southern Sudan, the ongoing Hutu-Tutsi threats of revenge, and the taking of UN hostages to the exclusion of white and western peace keepers, would suggest that a definite ethnic slant is developing in the continent.

In the meantime, the community of Holocaust survivors and Jewish lobby in the US still work furiously to increase public awareness of their holocaust and see justice done. But where exactly is this lobby expressing disgust at international apathy towards genocide? Not Africa.

Madeline Albright, a very powerful and political product of that lobby, redirected US policy towards the Balkans, but it did little to show concern beyond the European ghetto. Is Africa just too small and too poor? Interestingly, the first original site proposed for a Jewish homeland was Uganda. How different would the political definition of genocide be if Israelis were Africans?

Leave a comment