Can Killing 60 People Constitute Genocide?

Can Killing 60 People Constitute Genocide?

An email asks about the Bolivia genocide indictment:

“Why would you think that the repression of 60 people over natural gas would constitute genocide? You’re the lawyer — tell me.”

I take it that the email is skeptical that genocide could occur where only 60 people were killed and where the purpose of the repression was to promote natural gas development. These are both good points and I certainly didn’t mean to opine on the merits of the indictment. I am neither an expert on the Genocide Convention (Peggy, Chris, help??) nor am I familiar with the facts of the case in Bolivia, but, as the email points out, I am a lawyer.

So let’s go to Article II of the Genocide Convention:

[G]enocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group

Under the text of the Article II, by ordering the killing of 60 Bolivian Indians (as I believe the case in Bolivia charges), the ex-President’s actions could be found to meet Article II(a). But the real core of the Article is to prohibit actions with the intent to destroy a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group. No minimum number of deaths would be needed to constitute genocide, but, for obvious reasons, it would be easier to prove “intent to destroy, in whole or in part” a group if the alleged genocide was aimed at a large proportion of that group.

I suppose that the case in Bolivia might try to bring in the natural gas development plans as part of the intent to destroy the Indian group and the repression and killings as only one incident in a larger plan. This seems possible, but ultimately, it seems implausible to me that this could be proven with any certainty.

Still, while “genocide” is an international crime, countries like Bolivia may have defined the crime differently. The indictment here is brought in Bolivian court and there is no requirement under the Genocide Convention (I don’t think) to limit the strictness of the Genocide definition.

The real practical lawyering here will turn, as I suggested, on the question of extradition from the U.S. The U.S. has agreed in the Genocide Convention not to refuse extradition of individuals charged with genocide (as defined in the Convention). Presumably, the ex-President will try to argue that this whole indictment is simply a “political offense” for which the U.S. is not obligated to extradite. And here, he might usefully attack the Bolivia indictment on the grounds the email suggests: that this is not a plausible allegation of genocide under the Convention. This decision thus will ultimately be made by the U.S. government, which apparently has not even noticed this indictment has occurred (scroll down for the State Dept Spokesman’s non-response to the question).

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