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Friday, July 23, 2004

Is Genocide the Right Word? 

Given all the hemming and hawing over whether or not the ongoing situation in Darfur/Sudan is "genocide," it's particularly shocking to see the term applied to a case where 11 people died [NY Times]:
A special prosecutor has requested the arrest of former President Luis Echeverria and other senior officials accused of genocide for allegedly ordering the killing of student demonstrators in 1971, Echeverria's attorney said Friday...

In the June 10, 1971, attack, a government-organized group attacked student protesters, and 11 people died.
Look: I'm sure that a number of Mexican leaders did some pretty terrible things during the "dirty wars" and at other times. Perhaps these crimes even amounted to genocide. So I'm glad that someone is finally holding former PRI leaders accountable. And I don't know the first thing about the Mexican legal system or its terminology.

But calling a single police/protestor incident "genocide," even if this incident was horrible and caused 11 deaths, is worse than ridiculous. It introduces an air of hysteria into the prosecutor's case, devaluing the point he hopes to make. And of course it devalues the term "genocide" itself.

There's another bizarre angle to this story:
Velazquez also noted that under Mexican law in effect at the time, the crime of genocide had a 30-year statute of limitations that he said expired on June 10, 2001.
A statute of limitations on genocide???!! What possible function could that serve? Maybe those PRI lawmakers were just covering their asses, thinking it necessary to pass an anti-genocide law but also feeling it might be important to limit future prosecutions where they could be held accountable. Seems a bit too prescient, though.

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