J. Kenneth Blackwell and David L. Phillips on The U.S. Must Say ‘Never Again’ to Genocide in Syria

Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan has threatened to “cleanse” northern Syria of Kurds. Though the term “ethnic cleansing” originated during the Bosnian War in the 1990s, genocide and ethnic cleansing are functionally interchangeable. Both are crimes against humanity to which the U.S. must be adamantly opposed.

The term “genocide” was coined by Raphael Lemkin in 1943 who explained, “I became interested in genocide because it happened so many times. It happened to the Armenians, then after the Armenians, Hitler took action.” Genocide was the legal basis of the Nuremberg Trials, which prosecuted Nazi war criminals. The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide, adopted in 1948, requires states to intervene, whereas ethnic cleansing has no explicit or implied legal obligation.

The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide outlines acts that constitute genocide if they are done “with the intent to destroy an ethnic, national, racial or religious group.” These include:

– Killing members of the group

– Causing serious bodily or mental harm

– Deliberately inflicting conditions of life calculated to bring about the group’s physical destruction in whole or in part

“Ethnic cleansing” is a complementary term first used by the Bosnian Serb leader, Radovan Karadzic, to characterize Serbia’s treatment of Muslims and non-Serbs during the break-up of Yugoslavia in the 1990s. It may seem like a more benign and antiseptic term, but genocide and ethnic cleansing both describe crimes against humanity.

As U.S. officials, and in our private capacities, we struggled to prevent ethnic cleansing by Serbs in Bosnia. We applauded in 1995 when the United States went to war to stop ethnic cleansing in Bosnia and, in 1999, U.S. forces intervened to prevent what happened in Bosnia from happening in Kosovo. In both instances, we championed the rights of Muslims. We were proud that the U.S. went to war to defend defenseless victims.

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SOURCE: Christian Post, J. Kenneth Blackwell and David L. Phillips