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Dan Kovalik

Dan Kovalik

Posted: June 22, 2010 09:32 AM

The Politics of Genocide

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In their new book, The Politics of Genocide, published by Monthly Review Press, Edward Herman and David Peterson document the double standard used by the U.S. government, mass media and intellectual community in labeling, or refusing to label, particular events as "genocide." As these authors demonstrate in great detail, whether something is labeled "genocide" or not comes down to one simple question: Who committed the acts in question?

If the U.S. and/or its allies are responsible for the deeds at issue, one can bet that those deeds will not be labeled "genocide." If, however, the perpetrators are the ostensible enemies of the U.S., then, even if the wrongdoing may have amounted to massively less deaths than those created by the U.S. or its allies, there is a great likelihood that the wrongdoing will be considered "genocide." The authors quote Noam Chomsky who puts the calculation succinctly, "If it's a crime of somebody else, particularly an enemy, then we're utterly outraged. If it's our own crime, either comparable or worse, either it's suppressed or denied. That works with almost 100 percent precision."

The cases detailed in the book are familiar to most readers, but the assumptions surrounding those cases are greatly challenged by Herman and Peterson. So, for example, Herman and Peterson discuss the U.S. wars and intervening sanctions regime against Iraq. All told, these wars and sanctions resulted in the killing of approximately 1,800,000 Iraqis. However, despite the fact that these killings were a known likely consequence of the U.S.'s conduct - with the U.S. targeting soft civilian targets such as hospitals, water treatment, sanitation and electric plants in the first Gulf War, while preventing through subsequent sanctions the repair of such infrastructure known to be "indispensible to the survival" of the Iraqi people -- few dared to call this course of conduct by the U.S. an act of "genocide."

Rather, the term "genocide" was applied to describe the killings in Kosovo and Bosnia where 4,000 and 33,000 civilians were killed, respectively, to Darfur where 300,000 civilians have been killed and to Rwanda where 800,000 civilians have been killed.

As Herman and Peterson note, the only country in the world where more civilians were murdered than by U.S. and allied forces in Iraq was in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) where, according to Herman and Peterson, 5.4 million civilians have been killed in the ongoing hostilities there. This figure itself may be old, for, as Nicholas Kristoff recently reported in The New York Times, the figure by now may be closer to 7 million dead. However, as with Iraq, the DRC also rarely received the stigma of a "genocide" label. And again, there was an easy explanation for this - the U.S. and its allies, in their rapacious need for the rare minerals in the DRC, bear large responsibility for the killings there. As a result, these killings could not, by definition of those who control the political discourse, be considered "genocide."

While Herman & Peterson do not treat with Colombia, this is another example of the double-standard applied to the "genocide" question. Colombia has the second largest internally-displaced population in the world, only second to Darfur. See, UN Report. There are estimated to be as many as 4 million internally displaced people (IDPs) in Colombia. And, indigenous and Afro-Colombians make up a disproportionate share of these IDPs. Indeed, according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center, citing the UN High Commission on Refugees, "[a]lmost the entirety of the indigenous populations in Colombia [totaling one million] has been a victim of forced displacement." As a result of this displacement, as well as other serious human rights abuses against them, the Colombian Constitutional Court itself "ruled that indigenous groups 'are in danger of being culturally and physically exterminated . . . .'"

Similarly, Afro-Colombians also make up a disproportionate number of the IDPs, with up to a million Afro-Colombians suffering internal displacement. Indeed, according to AFRODES USA which advocates on behalf of displaced Afro-Colombians, Afro-Colombians make up to 1/3 of the IDPs, a figure, which if true, would put the figure of internally displaced Afro-Colombians over one million. Moreover, numerous leaders of the Afro-Colombian communities have been the victims of targeted assassination. Consequently, according to UN Independent Expert on Minority Issues, 80% of Afro-Colombians "do not have basic needs met," experience high infant mortality rates and have a life-expectancy of merely 55 years.

All of this has led the Constitutional Court of Colombia to conclude that "indigenous and afro-Colombians, respectively, have been affected by the armed conflict in an enhanced manner." In other words, approximately two million combined indigenous and Afro-Colombians have been internally displaced by the conflict in Colombia which has affected them in a particularly egregious fashion. And, the attack against these groups has been intentional, for it is calculated to remove these groups from their ancestral homes to make way for domestic and multi-national companies to extract resources as well as to grow cash crops such as palm for fuel. From an objective point of view, the indigenous and Afro-Colombians would therefore be considered victims of massive "genocide," with the both groups being pushed nearly to the point of extermination.

Yet, as with the other cases discussed in The Politics of Genocide, few would dare use the term "genocide" to describe this situation. And, the reason is that the genocide is taking place largely at the hands of Colombia - the U.S.'s closest ally in the Western Hemisphere - with massive military support from the U.S. which is acting in the very interests of those companies which covet the indigenous and Afro-Colombian land. And, as explained by AFRODES USA, the process of moving these groups from their land will only accelerate if the Free Trade Agreements with Colombia are passed. Therefore, as Herman & Peterson would predict, you will see no crocodile tears shed by the likes of Samantha Power who call for intervention to stop "genocide" only when it is happening on the watch of someone other than the U.S. and its allies.

Meanwhile, while the U.S. continues to villify Venezuela, a country which threatens its strangle-hold on Latin America, the UN recently applauded Venezuela for its treatment of the 180,000 or so displaced peoples (many of them Afro-Colombians) who have fled the violence in Colombia. Again, do not expect to read that fact in your local papers or on the evening news.

As a final note, Anthony DiMaggio, in an article today entitled, "Strategic Interests at the Empire's Periphery," explains how the unfolding human rights crisis in Kyrgystan -- in which the Uzbek minority is being subject to grave acts of violence, including sexual assaults and beatings -- is being largely ignored by the media. Again, as DiMaggio explains, the media, ever taking their cue from the U.S. government, are ignoring this crisis precisely because it is inconvenient to the United States. Thus, the truth is that the U.S. has, for years, supported the government and police forces of Kyrgystan, despite their record of repression, torture and corruption, in return for their leasing a critical military base to the U.S. The violence breaking out now, which has forced around 400,000 Uzbeks into exile, is a direct consequence of the many years of state-sponsored brutality which the U.S. has been more than happy to support. As a result, the U.S. government and media encourage us all to look the other way.