Genocide: How to Stop It

By Rev. Michael P. Orsi | April 8, 2014 | 2:27pm EDT

Today, (April 8, 2014) the world commemorates the 20th anniversary of the Rwanda genocide.

Two major tribes comprise the country, the Hutu and the Tutsi. Tensions were always strong between the groups due to scarce resources and power struggles for leadership.  When the Hutu President of Rwanda's plane was shot down his government officials convinced their fellow tribesmen that the President's death was caused by the Tutsis. This sparked a genocide of over 800,000 people.

Genocide is not new to humanity. We are all familiar with the Nazi genocide of over six million Jews. And, unfortunately, it continues today. Countries, such as, the Central African Republic, Darfur (Sudan), Congo, and Syria are all experiencing the horror of citizens killing each other.

What makes these crimes against humanity possible?

First, unscrupulous leaders gain control of a government. They then establish police power over the state, enabling them to ignore the rule of law, or modify it according to their dictates. This creates fear among the populace who then cow to their will. Secondly, through propaganda they convince people that certain members of the society are less than human and therefore should be exterminated. Thirdly, they train people to obey unreflectively the commands of government.

Once these elements are put in place genocide can begin.

One of the reasons that the United Nations was created was to stop such horrors as perpetrated by the Nazi's from ever happening again. In the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights (1948), basic principles for preventing genocide were imposed on nations. Foundational to the document was the inherent dignity of each person. This concept guaranteed basic human rights, without distinction, to any race, sex, language, or religion.  It also assumed that the agency would have the authority to stop violations.

This, unfortunately, has proven not to be the case for the following reasons:

First, the values enunciated have proven to be lip service for many countries where political self-interest rules over the enunciated values in the Declaration.

Secondly, the machinery of the United Nations moves too slowly. For example, the people of the Central African Republic, where thousands are already dead due to sectarian violence, are still waiting for a vote on a United Nations peacekeeping proposal scheduled for some time this month.

Finally, The International Criminal Court has no power to enforce that which the United Nations warrants.

What can be done? First, the groundwork to prevent genocide has to begin well in advance of the spark that ignites the killing.

Humanitarian organizations throughout the world should promote the concept of the dignity of every human being as their central tenet. This is a biblical concept. It is also vital to good human behavior not only because it is religious, but because it is right according to the natural law. The groundwork to prevent genocide has to begin well in advance of the spark that ignites the killing.

Secondly, people must be taught to think critically for themselves. This means that orders from the top may not necessarily be good. It also means that the law cannot be uncritically obeyed since it may contradict good behavior. And, that true law forbids following evil commands.

Thirdly, countries must be encouraged to make provisions for free speech, public assembly, the press, and virtually so that there is vigorous debate on government policies.

Fourthly, the rule of law should be encouraged with strong legal and legislative institutions. This will prevent a strong-man from gaining total control over a country.

One may say this is all well and good. It is a goal to work toward. However, what can we do when genocide erupts? The answer is to not give evil a chance to continue.

We have seen that The United Nations is too slow to act. And, often times, powerless to stop atrocities once they begin. But, the United States is not. In the case of genocide, it is immoral for America to lead from behind.

President Clinton said regarding the Rwanda genocide: "I will always believe that a few thousand international troops with a real mandate to fight would have stopped the killing." He said he was sorry for doing too little to stop the horrors.

American Exceptionalism seems of late to be politically incorrect. I contend, it is not! If anyone sees a tragic situation occurring and has the means to stop it, they have a moral obligation to do so.

Being the biggest kid on the block requires that we act to stop crimes against humanity. Not only are we obligated because of our wealth and power but also by our moral beliefs regarding human beings. We have always seen ourselves to be a moral nation.

With America's leadership the tragedy of genocide can be stopped.  It is a matter of stopping evil in its tracks before it destroys our collective humanity.

We must remember the words of Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, "Not to act is to act."

Editor's Note: Reverend Michael P. Orsi is a Research Fellow in Law and Religion at theAve Maria School of Law


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