Is 'genocide' still a powerful word?
"Genocide" was once perceived to be a powerful word. In 1994, the Clinton administration feared using the word to describe violence in Rwanda. Officials believed that the use of this label would activate unwanted legal obligations and increase political expectations for an American response to the crisis. In contrast, ten years later the Bush administration willingly used the term to describe atrocities being committed in Darfur, Sudan. This administration denied that a determination of "genocide" activated new legal obligations, and also found that the use of the word did not lead to substantially increased political pressures to act. This article argues that the word "genocide" has lost some of its ideational power in the sense that it has been detached from legal and political demands "to prevent and to punish" it. The article suggests some reasons for this change and also considers the extent to which such a change actually matters.
Journal of Genocide Research