Thursday, June 09, 2005

Victims No Longer

Dave Kopel has put up an article on the rights of genocide victims. He believes that there should be a principle of international law that states victims of genocide have a right to resist. More specifically, he thinks that we need to make sure potential victims are armed as a deterrent to genocidal policies.

Kopel's empirical warrants are damning--I very much believe him when he says that genocide has almost exclusively happened where the targeted population has been disarmed. However, I'm not sure what the end result of Kopel's preferred worldview is. As far as I can tell, he envisions it as some sort of micro-detente--ethnic hatreds suppressed by fear of the others weapons. I, on the other hand, am much less optimistic--I see the likely outcome in many cases as full-fledged civil war. For example, Kopel cites the ICJ case Bosnia v. Yugoslavia, where Judge Lauterpacht's opinion argued that a facially neutral arms embargo violated Bosnia's rights under the Genocide Convention because it prevented potential victims from defending himself. But let's look at what happened there--even if a full-scale genocide was averted, there was still a brutal civil war with massive civilian casualties. I'm not trying to say civil war is worse than genocide or vice versa--I'm merely saying that providing armaments can't be a substitute for institutional conflict resolution.

The other problem with providing arms is that someone needs to do it--and the actors most likely to supply weapons are not interested in protecting victims but rather using their favored party as a pawn in the international political game. In the Cold War, for example, both the US and the USSR funded their preferred factions all around the world, preventing conflicts from naturally burning themselves out and removing any incentive for political resolutions. As long as parties can be assured of a limitless supply of weaponry and material support, they have no incentive to search for non-violent solutions--the only permanent way to prevent innocent deaths.

Insofar as Kopel critiques the inadequacy of non-violent and international responses to the problem of genocide, I'm onboard. And if it turns out our only choice is between the mass slaughtering of unarmed populaces and fueling civil conflicts, I will regretfully join the latter. But I think that a truly comprehensive anti-genocide scheme still requires some measure of political and legal response by the international community. A victims-first policy is not going to be enough.

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