Standing against genocide

A Mere four decades after President Harry S. Truman signed the United Nations Genocide Convention, the Senate has finally consented to its ratification. With its resounding 83 to 11 vote, the Senate has made up in decisiveness what it had lacked in speed. This convention was born of the heartfelt desires of those wanting to ensure that the Nazi Holocaust of World War II would never be repeated.

The treaty defines genocide as the attempt, in time of peace or war, to eliminate all or part of a group for reasons of race or ethnicity. The treaty also binds signatories to bring genocidal murderers to trial as Nazi war criminals were brought to trial at Nuremberg.

Given the mass killings in Cambodia, to give but one example, and the difficulties with any international legal proceedings, it cannot be argued the treaty has kept the world free of genocide.

But it does carry a certain moral weight, and the ratification by the United States has at least symbolic importance. There is value in the US taking its place within the family of nations and supporting international conventions like this one; 96 other nations, including all the major Western democracies, had signed it.

Ratification has had broad, bipartisan support for some time but had been held up largely as a result of the opposition from some conservatives, including Sen. Jesse A. Helms (R) of North Carolina, who was concerned lest the treaty infringe on national sovereignty. In the end, the positive vote came after Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R) of Indiana, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, agreed with Senator Helms on a carefully worded set of ``reservations'' to be understood by the other signatories.

Congress must still pass enabling legislation before the treaty has any teeth. It is at this point that legitimate questions of national sovereignty can be addressed.

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