Dancing a similar two-step as a previous Democratic administration, White House spokesman Jay Carney had a wordy answer — not containing “yes” or “no” — to the question of whether Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is perpetrating genocide on his people.
“You mentioned that the — the Assad regime has murdered tens of thousands of people, in your — your words. Does this rise to the level of a genocide?” was the question directed to Carney.
“It is a level of violence against — by a regime against its own people that is worthy of contempt and condemnation. What the terminology that may be used by courts, or the United Nations or others, I will leave to them. But, it is heinous and despicable. It is the kind of action that long ago rendered Assad incapable of continuing in power with any kind of legitimacy,” the press secretary said before hurrying on to the next question.
More than 70,000 people have been killed and more than a million have been displaced by Assad’s bombardment in response to peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations that were inspired by the Arab Spring.
Genocide Watch notes that government atrocities “far outweigh” ones attributed to rebels, and “the evidence is conclusive that the al-Assad regime is committing intentional crimes against humanity.”
“Among the crimes the al-Assad regime is committing are: indiscriminant, widespread attacks on civilians, arbitrary detention of thousands in the political opposition, genocidal massacres of whole villages of Sunni Muslims, rape of detainees, widespread torture- including torture and murder of children- and denial of food, medicines and other essential resources to civilians,” the organization said.
“Early warning signs and stages of genocide” in Syria, Genocide Watch says, are “prior unpunished genocidal massacres, such as those perpetrated by Assad’s father in Hama in the 1980’s; rule by a minority sect – the Alawite sect that supports Assad – with an exclusionary ideology; systematic human rights atrocities; fear by the ruling elite that any compromise will mean total loss of their power; deliberate targeting of particular groups — Sunni Muslims and army defectors; denial by the Syrian government that it is committing crimes against humanity, blaming ‘foreign – inspired terrorist gangs’ for the armed conflict.”
Governments are loathe to use the word “genocide” for fear of having to act under the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.
In a clear case of genocide in Rwanda, 1994, Clinton’s administration infamously stopped at the description “acts of genocide.” In 1998, President Clinton apologized to Rwanda victims, saying, “We did not act quickly enough after the killing began. We should not have allowed the refugee camps to become safe havens for the killers. We did not immediately call these crimes by their rightful name: genocide.” Over 100 days, 800,000 people were killed in the genocide.
Privately, though, the State Department was officially calling the Rwandan slaughter genocide in reports just a few weeks after the killings started.