Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Responding (or Not) to Genocide

Eric Reeves, the author of A Long Day's Dying: Critical Moments in the Darfur Genocide, has a passionate commentary in today's Christian Science Monitor on the international community's failure to act in the face of genocide. He argues that the United Nations "desperately requires a substantial, robust standing force, prepared to deploy urgently to protect civilian populations facing genocide, war crimes, or crimes against humanity."

Unfortunately, even if the will to create such a force existed among the UN Security Council members needed to make it a reality, it seems unlikely that the will to authorize its use in Darfur and elsewhere could be mustered when the time comes. The inaction of states--including the United States--in the face of genocide and other serious human rights abuses is rooted in much more fundamental problems, one of which is the failure of democratic polities to hold governments accountable for moral failures in foreign policy.

If I seem overly pessimistic, it may be a result of having read Samantha Power's "A Problem from Hell:" America and the Age of Genocide, a work that details the many ways the United States has evaded its moral and legal responsibilities to prevent and punish genocide. I wish various UN reform proposals could, if implemented, solve the problems that have crippled the world's response to Darfur, Rwanda, Bosnia, Cambodia, and other modern crimes, but I fear that focusing on those reforms diverts too much of the responsibility from those of us living in democracies who ought to be doing more to ensure that our own governments do not get away with indifference to human suffering wherever it occurs.