The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary







Genocide has been defined as the deliberate killing of people based on their ethnicity, nationality, race, religion, or (sometimes) politics, as well as other deliberate actions leading to the physical elimination of any of the above categories. There is disagreement over whether the term genocide ought to be used for politically-motivated mass murders in general (compare "democide"), but in common use it simply refers to the deliberate mass murder of civilians. Over 40 million have been killed in the past 100 years.

The term genocide was coined by Raphael Lemkin(1900-1959), a Polish Jewish legal scholar, in 1943, from the roots genos (Greek for family, tribe or race) and -cide (Latin - occidere, to kill). In the wake of the Nazi Holocaust, Lemkin successfully campaigned for the acceptance of international laws, defining and forbidding genocide. This was achieved in 1948, with the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.

After the minimum 20 countries became parties to the Convention, it came into force as international law on January 12, 1951. At that time however, only two of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (SC) were parties to the treaty, France and 'Nationalist' China (Taiwan). Eventually the Soviet Union ratified in 1954, the United Kingdom in 1970, the People's Republic of China (PRC) in 1983 (the PRC replaced Taiwan on the SC in 1971), and the United States in 1988. This long delay in support for the Genocide Convention by the world's most powerful nations caused the Convention to languish for over four decades. Only in the 1990s did the international law on crime of genocide begin to be enforced.


Definitions of genocide

Much debate about genocide revolves around the proper definition of the word genocide.

Here is what Lemkin said about the definition of genocide in its original adoption for international law at the Geneva Conventions:

Generally speaking, genocide does not necessarily mean the immediate destruction of a nation, except when accomplished by mass killings of all members of a nation. It is intended rather to signify a coordinated plan of different actions aiming at the destruction of essential foundations of the life of national groups, with the aim of annihilating the groups themselves. The objectives of such a plan would be the disintegration of the political and social institutions, of culture, language, national feelings, religion, and the economic existence of national groups, and the destruction of the personal security, liberty, health, dignity, and even the lives of the individuals belonging to such groups. - Raphael Lemkin, Axis Rule in Occupied Europe (Wash., D.C.: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 1944), p. 79. See

Genocide as a crime under international law

The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide was adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 9, 1948 and came into effect on January 12,1951. It contains an internationally-recognized definition of genocide which was incorporated into the national criminal legislation of many countries, and was also adopted by the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, the treaty that established the International Criminal Court (ICC). The Convention (in article 2) defines genocide as "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.

The first draft of the Convention included political killings but that language was removed at the insistence of the Soviet Union. The exclusion of social and political groups as targets of genocide in this legal definition has been criticized. In common usage of the word, these target groups are often included.

Common usage also sometimes equates genocide with state-sponsored mass murder, but genocide, as defined above, does not imply mass-murder (or any murder) nor is every instance of mass-murder necessarily genocide. Neither is the involvement of a government required. The word 'genocide' is also sometimes used in a much broader sense, as in "slavery was genocide", but this usage diverges from the legal definition set by the UN.

International law

All signatories to the above mentioned convention are required to prevent and punish acts of genocide, both in peace and wartime, though some barriers make this enforcement difficult. Genocide is dealt with as an international matter, by the UN, and can never be treated as an internal affair of a country. It is commonly accepted that, at least since World War II, genocide has been illegal under customary international law as a peremptory norm, as well as under conventional international law. Acts of genocide are generally difficult to establish, for prosecution, since intent, demonstrating a chain of accountability, has to be established.

Genocide in history

Main article: Genocides in history

Genocide appears to be a regular and widespread feature of the history of civilization. The phrase "never again" often used in relation to genocide has been contradicted up to the present day.

Determining which historical events constitute genocide and which are merely criminal or inhuman behavior is not a clear-cut matter. Furthermore, in nearly every case where accusations of genocide have circulated, partisans of various sides have fiercely disputed the interpretation and details of the event, often to the point of promoting wildly different versions of the facts. An accusation of genocide is certainly not taken lightly and will almost always be controversial.

Stages of genocide and efforts to prevent it

According to Dr. Gregory Stanton , President of the Genocide Watch, genocide develops in eight stages:

  1. Classification: people are divided into "us and them". "The main preventive measure at this early stage is to develop universalistic institutions that transcend... divisions."
  2. Symbolization: "When combined with hatred, symbols may be forced upon unwilling members of pariah groups... To combat symbolization, hate symbols can be legally forbidden… as can hate speech."
  3. Dehumanization: "Dehumanization overcomes the normal human revulsion against murder."
  4. Organization: "Genocide is always organized... Special army units or militias are often trained and armed... To combat this stage, membership in these militias should be outlawed."
  5. Polarization: "Hate groups broadcast polarizing propaganda... Prevention may mean security protection for moderate leaders or assistance to human rights groups..."
  6. Identification: "Victims are identified and separated out because of their ethnic or religious identity... At this stage, a Genocide Alert must be called..."
  7. Extermination: "At this stage, only rapid and overwhelming armed intervention can stop genocide. Real safe areas or refugee escape corridors should be established with heavily armed international protection."
  8. Denial: "The perpetrators... deny that they committed any crimes... The response to denial is punishment by an international tribunal or national courts."


[1] Figures from controversial book by R. J. Rummel, "Death by Government".
[2] Figure from Encyclopædia Britannica

Further reading

  • Elizabeth Becker , When the War Was Over: Cambodia and the Khmer Rouge Revolution, Public Affairs, 1986, 1998, paperback, 519 pages, ISBN 1891620002
  • Barbara Harff , Early Warning of Communal Conflict and Genocide: Linking Empirical Research to International Responses, Westview Press, August 2003, paperback, 256 pages, ISBN 0813398401
  • Ben Kiernan , Ed., Genocide and Democracy in Cambodia: The Khmer Rouge, the U.N., and the International Community, 335 pp. (1993). ISBN 0938692496
  • Samantha Power , "A Problem from Hell": America and the Age of Genocide, Basic Books, 640 pages, ISBN 0465061508 (hardcover, 2002), ISBN 0060541644 (paperback, 2003), 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Nonfiction
  • Eric Richard , The Highland Clearances, Barlinn Books, 2000, ISBN 1841580406
  • Samuel Totten , William S. Parsons , and Israel W. Charny , eds, Century of Genocide: Critical Essays and Eyewitness Accounts, Second Edition, Routledge Press, 507 pages, ISBN 0415944295 (hardcover, 2004), ISBN 0415944309 (paperback, 2004)

External links

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