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Radovan Karadzic sent to 40 yrs in jail. When do killings become a genocide?

Saurav Datta | Updated on: 7 April 2016, 19:42 IST

The International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia's (ICTY) has sentenced Radovan Karazdic to 40 years imprisonment for the Srebenica mass massacres and "ethnic cleansing" of Bosnian Muslims and Croats in 1995.

Karadzic was a deputy of Bosnian-Serb leader Slobodan Milosevic, who was held guilty by The Hague in 2011 and died in incarceration for the Srebenica mass massacres and "ethinic cleansing".

Karazdic, 70, who was formally trained as a psychiatrist but later went on to become the President of the regional province of Sprska, was found guilty of 10 out of 11 charges of genocide and war crimes.

Karadzic was one of the chief protagonists of the atrocities which the Bosnian-Serb dominated regime unleashed on its Muslim population in the infamous Bosnia-Herzigovina civil war of 1994-95. That war, born out of a vicious ethnic strife, has gone down in the annals of of history as one of the major cases of genocide.

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On 24 March, the ICTY convicted and sentenced Karazdic for aiding, instigating and abetting genocide (which the UN regards as a "crime against humanity"). Serge Braummertaz, the Chief Prosecutor in the case, hailed the verdict as a triumph of "humanity and justice over impunity".

Genocide: the definitition and its discontents

When Raphael Lemkin, a Polish-German Jew who managed to escape the Holocaust, coined the term "genocide" in 1943- 1944, he had little idea of the furious, continuing political storm his idea would end up unleashing.

On 9 December 1948, the United Nations General Assembly, vide Resolution No. 260, accepted and adopted the term "genocide" (Greek- genos (race/tribe) + Latin-cide (killing)) . Subsequently, the UN elevated the definition into a Convention (same as a treaty), named The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide in 1951.

In that the operative words are 'destruction of national groups' by a 'co-oordinated plan of different actions'.

This raises the crucial question- should this action be supported (tacitly or directly) by the State or ruling government?

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If non-state actors, enjoying the political patronage of the ruling party, go on the rampage and indulge in mass murder, rape and arson directed at a particular ethnic group, can it be termed as "genocide"?

Rhetorical flourish works well in advocacy circles, but not in the halls of the law.

If the ruling political party directs the police to go slow and allows a free hand to a murderous mob, would it legally count as "co-ordinated" action?

If that is indeed the case, a number of riots in India would fall in that category.

It's noteworthy that till date, India has only signed, not ratified the Convention A treaty has binding legal value only when it's ratified- approved by Parliament) not when it's signed.

Do numbers matter?

There's another troubling question in the context of "genocide" - how many should be slaughtered (and officially be proved to have been slaughtered) for it to be termed a genocide?

Rival groups claim sole propriety to the term "genocide".

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The 1984 anti-Sikh riots, the 2002 anti-Muslim riots and the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits have all been termed genocide by certain representatives of the victim communities.

At the end of the day, it all boils down to a numbers' game.

But the fact remains that India hasn't ratified the Convention, so the argument can go on and on.

Edited by Aditya Menon

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First published: 7 April 2016, 19:42 IST
Saurav Datta @SauravDatta29

Saurav Datta works in the fields of media law and criminal justice reform in Mumbai and Delhi.