Skip to content
Personal Growth

When Colin Powell Declared Genocide

A newly declassified State Department document sheds light on why Colin Powell became the first member of any U.S. administration to apply the label ‘genocide’ to an ongoing conflict. 

What’s the Latest Development?

A recently declassified legal memorandum, written in 2004, as to whether or not genocide was occurring in the Darfur region of Sudan likely influenced then-Secretary of State Colin Powell to become the first member of any American presidential administration to apply the label ‘genocide’ to an ongoing conflict. The memorandum, written by Powell’s legal adviser at the time, William Taft IV, concluded that the U.S. faced no subsequent legal obligations should the label ‘genocide’ be applied to the killings in the Darfur. 

What’s the Big Idea?

After the Clinton administration’s wrangling over whether to call the Rwandan conflict ‘genocide’, many were surprised by Powell’s use of words, confirming before Congress that, in the State Department’s view, ‘genocide’ had occurred. That his legal advisers said arguments could both support and refute the label of ‘genocide’ meant Powell was required to make a judgement call. When he informed President Bush that he would declare the conflict a genocide, Powell says he faced no resistance. It had been approximately one year since he testified Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. 


Up Next