Sex, Drugs, and Body Counts: The Politics of Numbers in Global Crime and Conflict by Andreas Peter Greenhill Kelly M. & Kelly M. Greenhill

Sex, Drugs, and Body Counts: The Politics of Numbers in Global Crime and Conflict by Andreas Peter Greenhill Kelly M. & Kelly M. Greenhill

Author:Andreas, Peter,Greenhill, Kelly M. & Kelly M. Greenhill
Language: eng
Format: epub
ISBN: 978-0-8014-5706-7
Publisher: Cornell University Press

In the Palestinian mindset, Jenin is now associated with massacre, despite those reports having been partially corrected in the West. Even informed Palestinians express no doubt that there was indeed a massacre, just as there is a collective memory of 10,000 Palestinians massacred in “Black September” 1970, though the real number was closer to 1,000.92

The “Jenin massacre” has become a damaging social fact, even though it never occurred. This case provides further evidence in support of the proposition that the promulgation of bad numbers can have lasting and damaging consequences—both locally and farther afield—a conclusion that has been repeatedly borne out in the Balkans as well.


Politicized refugee and casualty statistics may also fulfill the political function of legitimizing action against a country that is responsible for the displacement or expulsion of its citizens.93 Refugee statistics and (projected) refugee movements were the central component of the political and public relations strategy NATO used to legitimize and maintain support for its actions in the then-Yugoslav province of Kosovo. Although what became known as the “Kosovo conflict” had been simmering throughout the 1990s, the crisis came to a low boil in mid-1998, following a brutal crackdown by the Serbs on the province’s Albanian population, as part of their counterinsurgency campaign against Kosovar separatists, and especially the militant Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA).

Conflict-related statistics were routinely manipulated and politicized throughout the Kosovo crisis and beyond. The political and humanitarian implications of this strategy became clear with some alacrity; the juridical and scholarly consequences are still being felt as of this writing a decade later. In some cases, the numbers proffered were wildly and demonstrably unreliable as well as clearly politically motivated. In other cases, the numbers reported might have in fact been technically correct; however, they were reported in ways that suggested that they were not exactly what they seemed.

For instance, following the Yugoslav Army’s 1998 summer offensive against the KLA, it was believed that several hundred thousand Kosovar Albanians had been displaced from their homes. With winter coming and few reliable statistics available, aid workers sounded the alarm about an impending humanitarian crisis.94 “The prospect of tens of thousands of Kosovars starving or freezing during the coming winter, in the words of one pundit, ‘concentrated the minds in Washington and elsewhere.’”95 Drawing on warnings of the winter threat, President Clinton released a statement saying, “With more than 250,000 Kosovars displaced from their homes and the cold weather coming, [Yugoslav President Slobodan] Milosevic must act immediately…to prevent a major humanitarian disaster and restore peace in the region.”96 However—as the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) knew at the time—the vast majority of the displaced were living in other homes, not exposed to the elements, as Clinton’s statement suggests.

Nevertheless, not only did the urgent humanitarian warnings and (misleading) prospect of a quarter of a million people freezing to death on western Europe’s doorstep galvanize support for military action against the Serbs, it also led to the misallocation of limited humanitarian assistance resources and prevented aid being delivered to locations where it was more desperately needed.


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