Latin America extends the definition of genocide

05 November 2007 by Santiago O’Donnell

A growing number of loosely defined groups are being declared victims of genocide by Latin American and Spanish courts: Indians in the Brazilian Amazonia, victims of the Argentine junta, student demonstrators in Mexico, street protesters in Bolivia, and former guerrilla members in Colombia. Yet, this trend goes against the widely accepted United Nations Genocide Convention of 1948 and the legal definition of genocide used by all contemporary international or hybrid tribunals, which are much stricter about what constitutes a genocide.

These Latin American cases approach genocide with a large, liberal interpretation of the term that is not in tune with what is happening at the international level,” said William Schabas, Professor of Human Rights Law at the National University of Ireland-Galway and a leading authority on the subject. “The International Criminal Tribunal for the formerYugoslavia and the UN Commission of Inquiry in Darfur have adopted a more strict approach. Perhaps the reason it has remained narrow is that the concept of crimes against humanity has grown broader and more robust. Therefore, atrocities that, in the past, people were not sure how to  label are now being labeled without dispute as crimes against humanity, and this has relieved the pressure on genocide from the arguments that it should be more broadly interpreted. Crimes against humanity carry the same sentencing weight as genocide, [are not proscriptable] and cannot be pardoned, just like genocides,” he said.

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