The UN Definition of Genocide
Raphael Lemkin, a Jewish lawyer and jurist originally from Eastern Poland, coined the term “genocide” in order to describe an ancient practice that had assumed new and terrifying proportions by the 1930s and 1940s. His passion and persistent advocacy at the UN led to the adoption of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide by the General Assembly on 9 December 1948. Article 2 of the Convention defines genocide as:
In the present Convention, genocide 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.
History of Genocide
Genocide is nothing new. The intentional annihilation of human beings has been a part of human history since time immemorial. From the biblical wars to the more recent atrocities in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, man’s inhumanity to his fellow man has been consistently and frequently apparent.
The Armenian genocide (1915-1923) was the first of the 20th century to capture world-wide attention; in fact, Raphael Lemkin coined his term “genocide” in reference to the mass murder of ethnic Armenians by the Young Turk government of the Ottoman Empire. Though the world reeled at the inhumanity committed against innocent civilians, justice was traded away in political maneuverings in the post-WWI era.
The outrages committed during the Holocaust, however, shocked human sensibilities beyond belief; for one of the first times in history, genocide was seen as an affront, an infraction on the preeminent right of all human beings to life. Together, the world said “Never Again.”
The UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, in force since 1951, was meant to deter future genocides through the threat of punishment. Since 1955, however, the world has watched more than 40 genocides stain human history.
Genocides don’t just happen – they develop, sometimes slowly and laboriously, sometimes in rapid downward spirals. Studying and comparing past cases of genocide has allowed social scientists to track patterns in the process leading up to genocide.
We know enough about the process of genocide now that we can actually determine, with a fair amount of accuracy, a country’s risk of genocide. The Risk Assessment Model, developed by Dr. Barbara Harff (2003), tracks seven essential risk factors of genocide: