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While some argue over term ‘genocide,’ the risk of inaction remains great

Excluding not only the current mass atrocities of the Rohingya minority in Myanmar and recent mass killings in Darfur but also other human-rights disasters, Stephen Kinzer is certainly overly cautious in his use of the term “genocide” (“Not every atrocity is a genocide,” Ideas, Jan. 21). His assertion that what is happening in Myanmar is not genocide is not shared by all experts or world leaders, to say the least. While one must doubt he intends this, his reading would suit perpetrators of current and future atrocities.

Kinzer is right to suggest that the international community does not respond in the same way to the term “ethnic cleansing” — currently there is no legal requirement to do so. There should be a requirement; all UN member nations have acknowledged their “responsibility to protect” since 2005. Unfortunately, other social and political interests are working to prevent meaningful engagement on behalf of communities in danger of erasure, such as the Rohingya in Myanmar.


Whether Kinzer supports action of any kind is unclear from his article. However, policy makers must not ignore the certain risk of inaction by focusing exclusively on the possible risks of action. At the current time, the world is making excuses to do nothing while human multitudes suffer. Though there may be some rhetorical overstatement at times of crisis, far more “unseemly” — a term Kinzer uses to describe what he calls a “race to the top of the atrocity standings” — is the vast normalization of other peoples’ suffering as well as a cynical pushback by perpetrators and lobbyists.

P. Adem Carroll

UN programs director

Burma Task Force

New York