A response to criticisms of ‘Defining genocide’

My post "Defining genocide" has provoked some sharp reaction from portions of the Bosnian Muslim community in the United States. The Congress of North American Bosniaks has written to the Committee on Conscience of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum-which is sponsoring my project-to denounce my comments as "outrageous" and "appalling" and demand that the post ...

ELVIS BARUKCIC/AFP/Getty Images
ELVIS BARUKCIC/AFP/Getty Images
ELVIS BARUKCIC/AFP/Getty Images

My post "Defining genocide" has provoked some sharp reaction from portions of the Bosnian Muslim community in the United States. The Congress of North American Bosniaks has written to the Committee on Conscience of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum-which is sponsoring my project-to denounce my comments as "outrageous" and "appalling" and demand that the post be removed from the museum website. They accuse me of "questioning genocide," much as "Holocaust deniers" question the Holocaust. You can read their letter in full here.

While I respect the opinions of my critics, and their right to disagree with anything I have written, I would invite them to read my posts about Srebrenica again. Far from questioning the crimes committed by Bosnian Serb forces under Ratko Mladic, I have described the series of atrocities in painful detail. I have written extensively about the cold-blooded executions of around 8,000 Muslim men and boys in July 1945, and the forcible expulsions of the remaining Muslim population of Srebrenica. 

As I wrote in my post, genocide is the most horrific of crimes, conjuring up images of the Holocaust. We should be wary about using such terminology, without first making clear the precise legal grounds for the accusation. My post was an attempt to explain exactly what "genocide" means, in legal and criminal terms, as defined by the 1948 United Nations Convention on Genocide

My post "Defining genocide" has provoked some sharp reaction from portions of the Bosnian Muslim community in the United States. The Congress of North American Bosniaks has written to the Committee on Conscience of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum-which is sponsoring my project-to denounce my comments as "outrageous" and "appalling" and demand that the post be removed from the museum website. They accuse me of "questioning genocide," much as "Holocaust deniers" question the Holocaust. You can read their letter in full here.

While I respect the opinions of my critics, and their right to disagree with anything I have written, I would invite them to read my posts about Srebrenica again. Far from questioning the crimes committed by Bosnian Serb forces under Ratko Mladic, I have described the series of atrocities in painful detail. I have written extensively about the cold-blooded executions of around 8,000 Muslim men and boys in July 1945, and the forcible expulsions of the remaining Muslim population of Srebrenica. 

As I wrote in my post, genocide is the most horrific of crimes, conjuring up images of the Holocaust. We should be wary about using such terminology, without first making clear the precise legal grounds for the accusation. My post was an attempt to explain exactly what "genocide" means, in legal and criminal terms, as defined by the 1948 United Nations Convention on Genocide

One of the reasons why genocide is difficult to prove in legal terms is that it revolves around the question of intent. In the words of the 2001 judgment in the case of Radovan Krstic, a senior Bosnian Serb general under Mladic, "It is not necessary to intend to achieve the complete annihilation of a group from every corner of the globe. Nonetheless the crime of genocide by its very nature requires the intention to destroy at least a substantial part of a particular group." Defining terms such as "intent" and "substantial part" can become extremely complicated.

The proper place to decide such questions is the courts. While I do not agree with all the opinions handed down by the Yugoslav War Crimes Tribunal, I agree with the conclusion of the judges that the Srebrenica massacre met the legal definition of "genocide," as defined by the United Nations Convention. I thought I made this clear in my original post. If that was unclear, I am happy to set the record straight. 

Michael Dobbs is a prize-winning foreign correspondent and author. Currently serving as a Goldfarb fellow at the Committee on Conscience of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, Dobbs is following legal proceedings in The Hague. He has traveled to Srebrenica, Sarajevo and Belgrade, interviewed Mladic’s victims and associates, and is posting documents, video recordings, and intercepted phone calls that shed light on Mladic's personality. Twitter: @michaeldobbs

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