So powerful has the term ‘genocide’ become that, to paraphrase Oscar Wilde, it is almost the ‘crime that dare not speak its name’. This is a paradoxical consequence of the international legal treaty designed to prevent it occurring: the 1948 Genocide Convention. Article One imposes a duty on UN member states to prevent genocide and punish its perpetrators. And herein lies the problem, at least as viewed by governments and foreign ministries. Most UN member states have neither the desire nor the ability to stop genocide, as the graveyards of Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and now Darfur evince.
During the Rwanda genocide in spring 1994 – an indisputable example of genocide – US State Department officials played hideous semantic games to avoid using the ‘g-word’. Asked by reporters whether the White House viewed the Hutu mass murders of Tutsis as a genocide, State Department official Christine Shelly replied: