There is no question that the political climate of the US is highly charged in recent years, or that President Donald Trump has been accused of heinous actions. In the Ukraine scandal alone, he is accused of numerous crimes, including bribery, extortion, and conspiracy. (Walter 2019) There’s been ongoing, consistent outcry about the border camps and practice of separating migrant children from their families to live in squalor. (Dalton 2019; Holmes 2019; Helm and Tapper 2018; Miller 2019) But the conversation around these border camps—these concentration camps, as they have been called (Holmes 2019; Miller 2019)—falls woefully short of acknowledging the biggest, most central problem with the practice of separating children from their families as a matter of government policy.
The Convention for the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide defines genocide as punishable in peace times and in war times, and as a list of acts that, when committed, are “[intended] to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.” (UN Commission on Human Rights 1948) Article II(c) defines one such act as “deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part”, and Article II(e) defines another act as “forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.” Under Article III, punishable actions include “conspiracy to commit genocide”, “attempt to commit genocide”, and “complicity in genocide”. Therefore, any violation of items under Article II that represent an attempt toward genocide, conspiring about genocide, or being complicit in a situation resulting in genocide are all punishable offenses.
By enacting a policy in which migrant children where systematically separated from their families and detained in concentration camps, which are described as overcapacity, unhygienic, and lacking in food and medical care (Holmes 2019; Dalton 2019), the Trump administration has unquestionably violated both Article II(c) and Article II(e)—and even if the conditions at these camps dramatically improve, or if the children are moved to proper, adequate housing facilities instead of being held in concentration camps, the issue still stands. Article II(e) was violated the moment the US government began taking children from their families, and it is consistently violated every second those families remain separated.
And yet in the reporting I’ve seen on this situation, the word “genocide” is never used to describe these actions. Other language is used. It’s cruel, it’s a form of concentration camp reminiscent of the Japanese internment camps from World War Two—it’s even described as an indicator that the US is on the road toward committing genocide. (Holmes 2019; Powers 2019; Helm and Tapper 2018; Miller 2019). In an op-ed for Truthout, Nicholas Powers even goes so far as to define the terms of genocide, but never declare that the actions of the US government fall within those parameters, instead saying that this is a path to genocide and consistently using language that implies genocide solely refers to widespread extermination of a group of people. (2019)
Failing to acknowledge the full weight of these atrocities is not only a disservice to the children and their families who are suffering as a result, but it also risks the people responsible never being held fully accountable. If ICE and the Trump administration aren’t brought before a tribunal for committing genocide in violation of Article II(c) and II(e) of the Convention for the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide, they will never be punished for these crimes. There will never be adequate restitution offered to these families.
And, worse, these practices may carry on—separating more children from their parents. Filling up more concentration camps. Continuing to break down vulnerable groups at their foundation by destroying families.
I don’t know what the path forward looks like, but it needs to include justice for these families.
Dalton, Jane. 2019. ‘Trump’s Migrant Camps on the US Border “undignified and damaging”, says UN Human Rights Chief.’ Independent. Accessed October 1, 2019 (https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/us-border-migrant-camp-mexico-trump-un-human-rights-children-a8994831.html).
Helm, Toby and James Tapper. 2018. ‘UK Rabbi Warns of Genocide Risk in Trump Policies.’ Guardian. Accessed October 1, 2019 (https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/jun/23/british-rabbi-trump-immigration-policy-like-genocide-theresa-may-visit).
Holmes, Jack. 2019. ‘An Expert On Concentration Camps Says That’s Exactly What the U.S. is Running at the Border.’ Esquire. Retrieved October 1, 2019 (https://www.esquire.com/news-politics/a27813648/concentration-camps-southern-border-migrant-detention-facilities-trump/).
Miller, Hayley. 2019. ‘Concentration Camp Expert Doubles Down: “Same Thing” Happening at Southern Border.’ Huffington Post. Accessed October 1, 2019 (https://www.huffingtonpost.ca/entry/alexandria-ocasio-cortez-concentration-camps-expert_n_5d0a3ec5e4b0e560b70c8e5e?ri18n=true).
Powers, Nicholas. 2019. ‘When Trump Calls People “Filth,” He’s laying the Groundwork for Genocide.’ Truthout. Accessed October 1, 2019 (https://truthout.org/articles/when-trump-calls-people-filth-hes-laying-groundwork-for-genocide/).
UN Commission on Human Rights. 1948. ‘Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.’ Accessed October 1, 2019 (https://www.ohchr.org/en/professionalinterest/pages/crimeofgenocide.aspx).
Walter, Greg. 2019. ‘Here are 7 Crimes Trump Might Have Committed in This Ukraine Scandal.’ Vice. Accessed October 1, 2019 (https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/vb5zad/here-are-7-crimes-trump-might-have-committed-in-this-ukraine-scandal).