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Genocide is the systematic killing of substantial numbers of people on the basis of ethnicity, religion, political opinion, social status or other particularity. The most widely known example is the Holocaust (the genocide of various groups, especially Jews, during World War II by Nazi Germany and its collaborators). Lesser known in the West are Stalin's forced starvation of Ukrainian farmers, or Mao's murder of 20 to 60 million Chinese.

The annihilation of most native americans by several means (such as the killing of the buffalo, for example) can also be considered genocide. Although such killing sprees also took place in most of the american continent (in some countries there is almost no indian population like in Argentina, where the genocide was sponsored by the goverment).

However, the term genocide has also been defined more broadly or narrowly, on the one hand by historians and sociologists and on the other by legal experts or diplomats.

Most generally, genocide is the deliberate destruction of a social identity. Various parties at various times have defined it in more limited ways. One popular limitation is to limit it to deliberate killing. This limitation was, however, explicitly rejected by the first formal definition of genocide under the Geneva Convention. Likewise, that Convention limited the social identities covered to national identity alone. Others have limited genocide to cover just ethnicity, race, and religion as social identities. Sometimes political identities are covered. With the rise of anti-nationalist sentiment, national identity, itself, is frequently identified as a cause of genocide and is therefore a social identity deliberately targeted for destruction by policies opposed to genocide. It is apparent that not only is there no clear consensus as to the meaning of the word genocide, but that some definitions are contradictory.

The term "genocide" was coined by Raphael Lemkin (19001959), a Polish Jewish legal scholar, in 1943, from the roots genos (Greek for family, tribe or race) and -cide (Latin - occidere, to massacre). In the wake of the Nazi Holocaust, Lemkin successfully campaigned for the universal acceptance of international laws, defining and forbidding genocide. This was achieved in 1948, with the promulgation of 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 12 January 1951. At that time however, only two of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (UNSC) were parties to the treaty: France and the Republic of China. Eventually the Soviet Union ratified in 1954, the United Kingdom in 1970, the People's Republic of China in 1983 (having replaced the Taiwan-based Republic of China on the UNSC 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 the 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.

Lemkin's original genocide definition was narrow, as it addressed only crimes against "national groups" rather than "groups" in general. Interestingly, it was broad at the same time as it included not only physical genocide, but also acts aimed at destroying the culture and livelihood of the group.

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 9 December 1948 and came into effect on 12 January 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 out by the UN.

Prosecution of genocide

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. In particular, some of the signatories — namely, Bahrain, Bangladesh, India, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, the United States, Vietnam, Yemen, and Yugoslavia — signed with the proviso that no claim of genocide could be brought against them at the International Court of Justice without their consent. [1] Despite official protests from other signatories (notably Cyprus and Norway) on the ethics and legal standing of these reservations, the immunity from prosecution they grant has been invoked from time to time, as when the United States refused to allow a charge of genocide brought against it by Yugoslavia following the 1999 Kosovo War.

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. Due to its gravity, genocide can be prosecuted by any state at any time under its universal jurisdiction. International criminal courts and tribunals function primarily because the states involved are incapable or unwilling to prosecute crimes of this magnitude themselves.

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 President of Genocide Watch Gregory Stanton, genocide develops in eight stages that are "predictable but not inexorable":

Stage Characteristics Preventive measures
People are divided into "us and them". "The main preventive measure at this early stage is to develop universalistic institutions that transcend... divisions."
"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".
"Dehumanization overcomes the normal human revulsion against murder." "Hate propaganda should be banned, hate crimes and atrocities should be promptly punished."
"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."
"Hate groups broadcast polarizing propaganda..." "Prevention may mean security protection for moderate leaders or assistance to human rights groups..."
"Victims are identified and separated out because of their ethnic or religious identity..." "At this stage, a Genocide Alert must be called..."
"It is “extermination” to the killers because they do not believe their victims to be fully human." "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."
"The perpetrators... deny that they committed any crimes..." "The response to denial is punishment by an international tribunal or national courts."

See also

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