Letter: Genocide definitions

March 2, 2001

Tzvetan Todorov's article ("A case of right over might", THES, February 9) and Alex Bellamy's letter (THES, February 16) concerning humanitarian intervention show a poor understanding of how genocide is defined legally.

Todorov claims that "since the second world war there have only been two genocides -Cambodia and Rwanda". One could argue, for example, that the slaughter of nearly 1 million members of the Indonesian Communist Party in the mid-1960s was genocide. While falling outside the remit of the genocide convention that does not protect political groups, this slaughter may well be covered by customary rules of international law that prohibit genocide directed at political groups. Indonesian actions in East Timor (which involved killing a third of its population) constitute genocide under convention provisions.

For Bellamy, two genocides in 50 years is one too many. His claim that "the Cambodian tragedy was not genocide" is contradicted by most legal analysis done in this area, and his statement that "arguments over what is genocide are fruitless" will come as a surprise to those former Khmer Rouge leaders likely to stand trial on charges of genocide very soon.

Phil Rumney
Human Rights Research Centre
Sheffield Hallam University

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