ethnic cleansing and genocide
The United Nations (U.N.) first termed ‘genocide’ in the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, while ‘ethnic cleansing,’ on the other hand, is not recognized as a crime under international law (United Nations Office on Genocide Prevention and the Responsibility to Protect).

The lines between the ethnic cleansing and genocide can become blurred; however, when it comes to the international community taking action to mediate in a crime, the difference between ethnic cleansing and genocide needs to be understood.



Genocide, in the Convention, 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:

  1. Killing members of the group;
  2. Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
  3. Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
  4. Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
  5. Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”

Therefore, under international law, genocide is a punishable crime. Any person found guilty of carrying out genocide will be tried by a tribunal of the state where the genocide was committed or an international tribunal.


Ethnic Cleansing

Ethnic cleansing is the process of removing particular groups from a specific area based on race, nationality, religion and other identifying principles.

While ethnic cleansing doesn’t, by definition, involve the intent to kill a group, the resettlement of said people typically results in the loss of lives; genocide, however, focuses on the “intent to destroy.”

Ethnic cleansing is considered a crime against humanity. It has not been written and signed in any U.N. treaty, which means Member States do not have to protect those who have fallen victim.

Critics of the terms “ethnic cleansing” and “genocide” say that many state governments will use the initial phrase — even in incidents that could arguably be classified as genocide — in order to escape the necessity of using state resources and taking action against the perpetrating nation.


Responsibility to Protect

International law, in general, is a tricky topic when it comes to holding perpetrators accountable and protecting human rights. However, there is discussion on the national and international level (especially within the U.N.) to improve global law enforcement mechanisms.

The Responsibility to Protect (R2P) doctrine says that “if a state is unable to protect its own population from “genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity” then the internationality community must do something.”

R2P was adopted at the World Summit in 2005. It aims to hold member states accountable for the equal and moral protection of their own populations and all populations at risk of genocide and other mass atrocity crimes.

Discussion is increasing to meet the needs of millions of individuals that have suffered (and are suffering) from ethnic cleansing and genocide in the world today.

– Caysi Simpson

Photo: Flickr

NamibiaWhile there have been numerous peace operations, the United Nations peacebuilding mission in Namibia is regarded as one of the United Nation’s most prominent successes. Peace operations were not originally mentioned in the 1945 U.N. Charter, however the modern condition of warfare has allowed for flexibility in international law, norms, and actors. The extension of the definition of “threats to peace and international security” has broadened over time, as evidenced by legal positivism and treaties such as the Responsibility to Protect and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

It has been argued the Security Council embraced an innovative character throughout the late 1980’s and early 1990’s.  A large contribution to this was the extension of “threats to peace” after the Cold War to include widespread violations of international humanitarian law and the massive flow of refugees. Since the 1990’s, the Security Council has acted past its authorized powers by means of flexible interpretation of the charter, but mostly expressed consent.There have been numerous peace operations, specifically during after the 1990’s, and many of these operations have taken place in civil war conflict areas. While there are various debates on the efficacy of peace operations, the mission is Namibia provides a case of a successful and sustainable peace.

Namibia is a country that was colonized by the Germans until a defeat by South Africa in 1915. South Africa ruled colonized Namibia until the Security Council confirmed the illegality of South Africa’s presence in the Territory in 1970, and later declared the necessity to hold free elections in Namibia as to ameliorate the oppressive presence of the South African Administration on the Namibian peoples. The United Nations adopted Resolution 435 in 1978 for U.N. supervision over Namibia’s independence, the mission was titled United Nations Transition Assistance Group, also referred to as UNTAG.According to the U.N. Mandate, the mission aimed to “Assist the Special Representative of the Secretary-General to ensure the early independence of Namibia through free and fair elections under the supervision and control of the United Nations. UNTAG was also to help the Special Representative to ensure that: “All hostile acts were ended; troops were confined to base, and, in the case of the South Africans, ultimately withdrawn from Namibia; all discriminatory laws were repealed, political prisoners were released, Namibian refugees were permitted to return, intimidation of any kind was prevented, law and order were impartially maintained.”

UNTAG proved to be different from previous peace operations, for its goals were focused on political rather than military goals. The success of the mission in Namibia had many ingredients. Not only was the timing appropriate due to the regional desire for peace, but UNTAG involved a great deal of civilian involvement. This is a critical component, for civilian input is invaluable when a society is being constructed into a democratic entity. Since the United Nations had been involved in Namibia for a substantial amount of time, the personnel and senior offices were very familiar with the situation. This is significant, for outside parties need dense insight into the conflict of which they are intervening. The wide mandate of the UN, combined with the sense of legitimacy by the Namibian people was necessary for the lasting peace in the region. Namibia gained independence in March 1990 and joined the United Nations as an independent country in April 1990.

– Neti Gupta

Sources: Taylor & Francis Online, University of Colorado, United Nations 1, United Nations 2

Photo: Fotolibra

r2pThe Responsibility to Protect doctrine, also known as R2P, was created by the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty in response to the genocide in Rwanda. R2P argues that the international community has the responsibility to protect civilians in states that are unwilling or unable to do so, therefore re-defining the pillars of state sovereignty. Two basic pillars of the Responsibility to Protect include state sovereignty to responsibility for the protection of its people lies within the state itself, as well as the international responsibility to protect populations suffering serious harm from internal war, insurgency, repression or state failure through humanitarian intervention.

The Responsibility to Protect includes the responsibility to prevent, react and rebuild. To prevent includes addressing both the root causes and direct causes of internal conflict and other man-made crises putting populations at risk. The responsibility to react describes the duty of either the state or international community to utilize coercive measures like sanctions and international prosecution, and military intervention as a last resort in response to situations with dire humanitarian consequences. The responsibility to rebuild includes providing full assistance with recovery, reconstruction and reconciliation, usually after a military intervention.

There are six criteria for military intervention: just cause, right intention, last resort, proportional means, reasonable prospects and right authority. Military intervention is difficult to justify, not only because of the criteria for intervention, but due to state sovereignty and United Nations Security Council vetoes. The conflict in Syria demonstrates the difficulty of implementing R2P and humanitarian intervention.

In addition to issues of sovereignty between the governments, the lack of cohesive intervention from the beginning has contributed to the conflict significantly, for early attempts at intervention were neither swift nor effective.  Due to the humanitarian situation, a UNSC Resolution or unilateral intervention justification would have proven legitimate in regard to the International Convention on Human Rights and the Responsibility to Protect, for the Assad regime was not being held accountable for the mass atrocities being committed within his territory. In addition to a lack of UNSC approval, the Chinese and Russian veto of the transfer of the case to the ICC has proven a hindrance to the international capacity to alleviate the conflict and further promotes the proxy war debate.

The lack of international capacity to alleviate the conflict in Syria has illuminated several tensions for the Responsibility to Protect and the future of humanitarian intervention. The conflict further demonstrates how R2P continues to be dependent on national interests, rather than the presence of “atrocities that shock the conscience.” The international community ought to acknowledge their mistake for not intervening in Syria in pursuit of assuring this non-intervention is a deviation from the norm to protect rather than implementation of a new precedent in order to restore the legitimacy of the Responsibility to Protect and humanitarian intervention.

Neti Gupta

Sources: Stand, Responsibility to Protect,  Global Center2p
Photo: Global Solutions