Televised Genocide

Article excerpt

Fifty years after the Second World War, the international community is watching crimes against humanity in Rwanda and Yugoslavia

Between the Leninakan earthquake in December 1988 and the Gulf War in 1991, the world seemed to have undergone a fundamental change. A global society was said to be emerging with a "new international humanitarian order". The United Nations General Assembly adopted its earliest resolutions on humanitarian assistance just a few days before the first intervention of this kind on Soviet soil after the deadly tremor in Armenia. The following year opened a new era, with the fall of the Berlin wall, the rising number of pro-democracy movements in Africa and Security Council resolutions imposing the help of humanitarian organizations to save the Kurds of Iraq. The end of the Cold War was supposed to usher in an epoch of peace and democracy made possible and strengthened by the information revolution.

The possibility of "seeing" world events unfold live on television fulfilled the dream of both postwar periods. As in 1918 and in 1945, the cry "never again" rang out in the 1990s. But it did happen again. Even as international organizations were celebrating the advent of a world re-united, fascistic militias began dismembering Yugoslavia along ethnic lines while a racist government in Rwanda unleashed death squads, setting off a frenzy of genocidal killing. Then there were the deadly implosion of Somali society, civil strife in post-Soviet Afghanistan and the war that has ravaged southern Sudan for 15 years, to mention just a few of the most devastating conflicts.

Could the new world order prevent these crimes from reoccurring - crimes against humanity which the international community had long thought banished at Nuremberg after the Second World War? Certainly not, unless we assume that they were just consequences of the East-West conflict or the results of obscure misunderstandings. These assumptions ignore the central importance of local political factors. And yet this is precisely the illusion maintained by a Western conception of the world which is constantly presented as universal.

This same denial of politics continued, although in different forms, in the crises of Bosnia and Rwanda. …