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Why genocide is difficult to prosecute

Protesters in 35 nations and more than 280 US cities rallied Sunday for protecting those being killed in the Darfur war.

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As public consciousness of the grim situation in Darfur grows, the difficulty of prosecuting what is often popularly called genocide is becoming clearer.

For years, the term genocide was used to describe the ultimate crime. But that crime was rarely – if ever – charged, since international courts were too weak.

Now, the mechanics of international justice are modestly rising to confront man's inhumanity to man: take, for example, the International Criminal Court and the Yugoslavia and Rwanda Tribunals here at The Hague.

Yet at the same time, the political sensitivity surrounding a genocide charge, which requires nations to intervene under international law, is creating friction. The cases of Rwanda, Bosnia, and now Darfur demonstrate this.

Sunday, protesters in 35 nations and more than 280 US cities marched against what a UN mission calls "apocalyptic" scenes still emerging from the Darfur war, now spreading from Sudan to Chad. Protest groups, including Amnesty International, called on Britain and the US to help create a peacekeeping force.

So is Darfur a genocide? A US Holocaust Memorial Museum committee and Colin Powell have said it is. So do at least two human rights reports. One French expert, Marc Lavergne, calls it "worse than a genocide" since mass killings are not done out of racial hatred, but because Darfurians are simply "in the way" of Sudan's plans to control land.

Yet many Sudanese experts and an International Criminal Court (ICC) don't term it genocide. They say it doesn't fit the 1948 Geneva Convention definition to win a case. This requires absolute proof of "mental intent" to kill or displace based on national, ethnic, or religious identity. Hence, an ICC prosecutor this winter did not charge a Sudanese interior minister and a rebel Janjaweed militia leader with "genocide," but crimes against humanity.

'An explicit call to action'

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